…goes the bell. In between each, a name. A name of one who has fallen asleep. A name of one who has died. A name of a saint.
Names of grandparents, parents, family, friends. Names of congregation members, those murdered, and those never born. Even if the name isn’t audibly heard, we hear it in our hearts and minds. We hear the name of a loved one lost.
This Sunday we celebrated All Saints’ Day. Part of that service was the reading of the faithful who had fallen asleep this past year with ties to our congregation. Among those names read was the name of my grandfather, Rev. William Kohlmeier. Other names were not heard audibly, but were in my thoughts. A former classmate, parents and grandparents of friends, my third grade teacher, and friend’s children who died in the womb. As we go further back the list grows and grows.
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, the conference hymn for TWELVE, was the first hymn sung at the All Saints’ Divine Service. It immediately reminded me of when I received news that my grandfather had died. At the time I was in St. Catherines at the final conference of the season. That night, I helped Pr. Buetow lead a group in Compline. The reading was this from 1 Corinthians 15:
“51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Death is swallowed up in victory! Where is your sting, death? Where is your victory? My grandfather died on the anniversary of his Holy Baptism, in which he received the sign of the Holy Cross marking him as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. He received the victory won by Him.
Yet, we weep when faced with the death of those around us or our own death. And rightly so, I think. Death isn’t natural. We weren’t created to die. That’s probably why I hate death so much. It gives the impression that God isn’t on the scene and the enemy is winning. It’s extremely difficult to receive as gift. But as Christians we have this comfort: Christ too was faced with death – the death of loved ones, death on a cross, and the enemy Death itself. He struggled with it, endured it, and beat it. The victory remains with life, the reign of death was ended. In Christ, we don’t fear death. Death is defeated.
Above the handle where I lifted my grandfather’s casket was an engraving of the Last Supper. It was a great reminder that here on earth we stand with the church militant. In the Lord’s Supper, we are joined with the saints who have gone before us. We share in that feast of victory over death. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we are joined into the song and feast of heaven. We are joined with those loved ones who have fallen asleep in a far greater way than we were in most of our memories of them.
Thanks be to God that He can take the ugly abomination of death and turn it into a thing of beauty and a feast of victory.