She loved Reformation Day, you told me, Nancy. So God called her home on Reformation Sunday, and I prepared on Reformation Day. So we sang “A Mighty Fortress” because you told me that was your mother’s favorite hymn, Betsy. And the day after Reformation is All Saints, so here we are, a couple days later, Our Redeemer family, to give God thanks that death has ushered Helen into the company of all the faithful departed in paradise of the blessed.
We are always being reformed. We aren’t reforming ourselves, but God is reforming us. Reformation Day doesn’t exist to praise a German named Martin Luther. Were that the case, the proud daughter of Mayor McNair would have no use for it. No, she loved that day because God used Dr. Luther to preach a message that reformed her very heart and core, the message that casts out sin and delivers eternal life. The message of Reformation Day, the message of Christianity, is for all people. What is that message? It is this: “Believe in Jesus and you shall be saved!”
That’s what Our Lord is telling us in our verses from St. John’s Gospel. That was one of the many passages I read to Helen while she was waiting for the holy angels to come to take her soul to be with Jesus. I read it both days, and Nancy thought it very appropriate. Our Lord here says that no one can snatch those who believe in Him, who trust in Him, who hear His voice, out of His hands.
How can this be? First, we have to admit how this doesn’t work. It’s not up to us to stay in His hands. If it were, if He just was letting us sit on His hand and wasn’t doing anything, if He was being casual about it and maybe His hand faltered, we would fall right out. This is because we are corrupt with sin, corrupt from the moment of our conception, so corrupt we can never do a thing that would please God. We now see with sorrow the end of our corruption. That’s one of the reasons we often use black at funerals.
But we also see with joy the reformation of that end. For Jesus’ hand does not let go. His sheep hear His voice. He proclaims His Word, He gives His forgiveness, He gives His Body and Blood. This keeps us in the true faith. This ushers us into life immortal. He holds on to the very end and will not let go. His hand and voice were present whenever the pastor came to visit her at Longwood, whenever Nancy played Sunday’s sermon for her, and most certainly when the pastor came to St. Margaret’s to read her God’s Word and pray over her in her last days. That was Christ at work, caring for His beloved sheep, preparing her to bring her home.
And then He spoke her name and took her home, and she got to celebrate Reformation Sunday in paradise. For the Christian, for Helen, death is not the end. It’s only the beginning. We don’t take her to Woodlawn to forget about this day. Her soul is with The Lord. Her soul is in His hands. Her body is too. And since that’s the case, things can’t stay the way they are. He never intended for us to die. He will raise her from the dead on the last day.
Why? Because He died and rose for her. On His Cross He suffered, was punished, for all our sins, for all our corruption. He bore it all, all our sins, diseases, death itself, in His Body on The Cross. So the color black also connects us to Good Friday. It not only tells us that we are corrupt, but that Jesus died to take away our corruption! He died just like us, but He rose again. Jesus our God, the only true God, died and rose for you. He died and rose for Helen. Since she belongs to Him and since He loves her, He must return to raise her from the dead. He must. He has no choice. It’s His promise to you, to her, to all who believe in Him. He must raise from the dead on the last day all those who believe in Him, who are His, who He holds in His hands, who hear His voice. The devil cannot stop Him. Death cannot stop Him. For He has crushed their power.
So in this Reformation/All Saints week, we give God thanks He reformed Helen, a sinner, into Helen, a saint. He did it when she was baptized. We saw that at work in her life, as she faithfully supported this church and its school and Sunday School and outreach as well as Unity Mission. That reformation also took place as God called her to intensely place all her trust in Him through the toils of recent years. Now it continues in this way: she is rescued from this evil world and all the trouble it brings. Soon she will be reformed in one last way: she will be raised from the dead, of perfect mind and body – and hearing – , sinless, to live forever with Jesus.
She wanted to get back to church. She may not have meant it the way it happened, but she got something better. Sunday morning she got to enter “into Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to the innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in heaven.” There she is safe from falls and illness, safe from Satan and all his horde, safe in the embrace of her Savior’s hands. Thanks be to God, Our Redeemer, Our Mighty Fortress.