I would not describe Walter as a skeptical man, although I do know that he had his doubts and suspicions about the government and the state of the world. He was certainly nobody’s fool, that is for sure. He knew his own mind, and, let’s be honest, he could be rather stubborn about it.
But do not misunderstand. If Walter could be stubbornly determined at times, he was even more sure and certain about his faith in Christ and his confession of the Gospel. That is what he lived for, and that is what he trusted and relied upon throughout his life, through various illnesses along the way, even unto death. There was hardly anything that could keep Walter away from church.
So, it might seem odd to hear about St. Thomas this morning at Walter’s funeral on this Second Day of Christmas. Perhaps unfairly, Thomas is typically remembered for his doubts, and for the fact that he was missing on that first Easter Sunday. That sure doesn’t sound like Walter, does it? But there are several reasons for which we give attention to this Holy Gospel on this occasion.
I know the paper indicates that Walter died this past Thursday, the 22nd of December. That was when Rob & Sandra discovered him at home, and I understand that he had enjoyed a good day on Wednesday, the day before. But from what I’ve been told, he was putting himself to bed for the night when the number of his days in this life on earth were completed and he fell asleep in Jesus. So, by my reckoning, it was on the evening of the 21st, the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, when Walter laid down his labors for the last time and entered his Sabbath Rest in Christ.
How appropriate that he should pass from this fallen world of darkness, death, and doubt, into the marvelous Light of Christ on the night of the Winter Solstice. For the darkest days are now behind us, and the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God now shines upon us in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Savior. As Walter knew that Light by faith under the Cross here on earth, so does he now live and abide in that Light within the neverending Eighth Day of the Lord’s Resurrection.
That’s another thing about this St. Thomas Day Gospel: Not only is it heard just a few days before Christmas, but then again, every year, throughout the whole Church, on the Second Sunday of Easter. And it really ties together so beautifully the Incarnation and the Resurrection of the Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried for three days, but risen from the dead in His own glorified Body of flesh and blood, never to die again, but living and reigning forever at the Right Hand of His Father.
It is surely in that hope, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, that Walter lived and died, and that we remember and give thanks for him today in the confidence and confession of the Resurrection. For the Word became Flesh, true God became true Man, that He might gather up the children of men into Himself as members of His Body, and bring them with Himself through death into life, into the Glory of His God and Father.
Not that we yet see it. For now we live by faith under the Cross in the midst of sin and death. And even Walter’s eyes await the final Resurrection of all flesh, when he shall behold his Lord and his God face to face. But by the grace of God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, Walter believed and confessed, as we also believe and confess, that our Redeemer lives. Against all the apparent evidence of this fallen and perishing world, and despite the frailty of our own dying bodies of flesh and blood, we trust and rejoice in the promise of the Lord’s Resurrection.
Which is no doubt why Walter requested the Old Testament Reading from Job 19 that we have heard this morning, and the glorious Easter hymn based on that Holy Scripture: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” For at the last, it is written — as though in rock by an iron stylus — He shall stand upon the earth, and from our own risen flesh, with our own eyes, we shall see Him as He is. The very thing that St. Thomas desired, which he and the other Apostles of the Lamb were granted, that we who have not yet seen might believe by the Word of their eye-witness testimony; and that we, believing that Holy Gospel, might have life in Christ, in both body and soul.
So that is why our hearts and minds are turned to the testimony and example of St. Thomas on this day. That we should find and receive the blessed comfort, peace, and rest that both St. Thomas and our dear brother Walter were granted in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. That in the face of doubt and fear we should be not faithless but believing; and, in the face of death and the grave, we should have the glorious life for which the Lord our God created us in His own divine Image.
Not that any of this is easy for this little while that we spend on earth. Let’s not kid ourselves. It was not easy for St. Thomas, who, like all but one of the Holy Apostles, was martyred for the Name of Christ. And it was not easy for Walter, either, though you might not have guessed it from his positive attitude and generally cheerful outlook. He was always doing “pretty good for an older man,” moving forward and persevering in the faith and confession of Christ. But he had his hurts and suffered some painful losses on his sojourn.
If there was one thing in particular that troubled Walter and weighed so heavily upon him, it was estrangement within families. I gather that went back to his own father leaving his family, when Walter was just a little boy, too young to understand the whys and wherefores, but only that his Dad was gone and his Mom was left to deal with things on her own. But there were similar such departures and losses in Walter’s adult life, as well, and even this past year. He simply could not understand how anyone could turn his back on his own family. But I expect that he had regrets of his own, too, for the fact is that we are fallen and fallible creatures.
The question is whether those sins and uncertainties of life will drive you away from Christ and His Church, or closer to the Lord in the Ministry of His Gospel. For Thomas, who was at first absent from the gathering of disciples, he found peace when he returned to the place where Christ is present. And for Walter, too, his peace was found in the faith and life of the Body of Christ.
It was the Body of Christ that sustained him when he was hit with the double loss of his son David and his daughter Linda within months of each other five years ago.
It is a terrible thing for any parent to bury his own children, and the seemingly insurmountable finality of death could hardly be more stark. So Walter grieved, to be sure, and he carried the burden of that sorrow for the remainder of his own life. But not as though without hope, for his hope remained in Christ, in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. For that One is the Son whom God the Father gave to save us, handing Him over to death and the grave. He is the Child born of Mary, whom she saw crucified, dead, and buried. And He is the One who has conquered death and risen from the dead for the righteousness and salvation of all the sons and daughters of men.
You, then, be where that Lord Jesus Christ is found. Not as though to earn or merit anything, but to receive everything by the grace of God in the Body of His Son. If you have wandered away, as Thomas did for awhile, then come back as he did on that Eighth Day of Easter. Follow the good and faithful example that Walter has set for all these past many years in coming to church. For it is in the congregation of His Church on earth, in the gathering of His disciples in His Name, that Christ Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us, even to the close of the age.
That is particularly clear in this Holy Gospel, in which the Liturgy and Ministry of Christ are set before you in His Word and works of grace, mercy, and peace. Not because those first disciples and Apostles were so courageous and strong, but despite the fact that they were not. Beset by fear and sadness, hiding away from the world in a locked room, nevertheless, the Lord comes to them, and takes His stand in their midst, and grants to them His Peace.
His Word to them is a liturgical greeting, such as you hear in the Divine Service when the Lord Jesus has consecrated bread and wine to be His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for His Christians to eat and to drink. Thus taking His stand in the midst of His disciples, He declares that His Peace is with you always. That is the true and lasting Peace of forgiveness, of rescue from death and the devil, of reconciliation with God, and of righteousness, life, and salvation. It is such a Peace which the world can neither give nor take away, because it is yours in Christ alone.
His Peace is given to you, first of all, as it was given to the disciples then, and as it has been given to Walter for these past 92 years, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, especially His Word of Holy Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins in His Name. For when the called Ministers of Christ deal with you by His divine command, it is valid and certain, in heaven also, as the way and the means by which Christ your dear Lord deals with you Himself. And by that Word of forgiveness, He breathes His Spirit upon you, into your ears, your heart and mind, your body and soul.
So it is that you, a child of Adam, mortal and returning to the dirt, are raised again from the dust of the earth to be and remain a living, breathing son of God in Christ Jesus. As surely as Walter has received that same Word and Spirt of forgiveness and life, and even though he has died, yet shall he rise and live forevermore.
I have no doubt that it was for the sake of that Ministry of the Gospel, in loving gratitude to Christ Jesus, that Walter was always so respectful and supportive of his pastors. He put his trust, not in the flesh and blood of mortal men, but in the Word and Spirit of the Living God, who has chosen in His mercy to speak and act through men.
And as the same Lord God did for St. Thomas, so He has done for Walter, and so He does for you. From His wounded side He has poured out the cleansing and refreshing water of Holy Baptism, so that you are forgiven all your sins, grafted into the Body of Christ, anointed by His Holy Spirit, and named by God the Father with His own Name. Here, then, is a Father who will never abandon His children or His family. Here, too, is a Bridegroom who will never leave you nor forsake you.
As He took Walter to be His own dear child by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit on the same day he was born, on the 23rd of May in 1924, so did He remain faithful to this dear son of God, our brother in Christ, until the day of his death last week. And by His faithfulness, He preserved and strengthened Walter in the one true faith, even unto the life everlasting.
From His wounded hands and side, Christ Jesus has also poured out His holy and precious Blood to fill His Chalice of Salvation, so that Walter was able to receive this great mercy, no less than St. Thomas. Forgiveness and Life and Salvation in both body and soul. From his confirmation at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Frazee, Minnesota, in May of 1938, until his final Sunday on earth, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Walter was given to eat and to drink the Body and Blood of Mary’s little Lamb, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
From the Manger of Bethlehem to the Cross and Resurrection, to the Breaking of the Bread at Emmaus, Walter was fed and cared for by the Lamb who is also the great Good Shepherd of the sheep. Though he could not yet see it with his eyes, he shared the faith of Job in the Resurrection and the Life of his Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And because St. Thomas and the other Apostles have seen the crucified and risen Lord, so by their Word of the Gospel did Walter receive and trust, believe and confess the same Lord, the Son of God and of St. Mary.
In the Sacrament of the Altar, the Body of Christ was given to Walter, and the Blood of Christ was poured out for Walter, that he should thus recognize and worship his own dear Savior by receiving His Salvation. The Church on earth, from Frazee to South Bend, was Walter’s Bethlehem. And the Altar of his Lord was the Manger from which he fed upon the Christ, even when that Altar had to come to his own home, to his hospital room, or to a rehabilitation center. That was Walter’s Paradise, even in the face of sadness, sickness, sin, and death.
And even now, though Walter’s body begins returning to the dust from which it was taken, yet shall he be raised and glorified in his body, like unto the glorious Body of Christ. And in that final Resurrection of all flesh — for which we and all the faithful wait, and watch, and pray — then shall Walter see with his own two eyes, from his own flesh, the great Redeemer who loves him, in whom he lives forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.