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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Like most congregations, Trinity has a church book that contains a running record of all of the marriages, baptisms, deaths, and confirmations. With Trinity observing its 125th anniversary this past year, it was a book that was turned to quite often in order to recall important events and people in the history of the congregation. At our celebration, Hilda was recognized as our oldest living member and she was so happy to be able to join us for that day. Little did we know that one of the names entered into that book during this year would be for Hilda.
With her departure, a godly woman, a mother and grandmother and great-grandmother is no longer here—a friend and sister in Christ and faithful member of Trinity is not among us now. Were it my duty to paint sadness and sorrow, it would be easy to point to the reality of these mortal remains and let them speak louder than any words. But I am not here to cause tears of sorrow, but rather to give tears of joy. I am not here to show the victory of death; but rather the victory of a dear Christian—not to show the darkness of the grave, but the Light of the world that shines from the empty tomb on Easter morning into the graves of those who trust in Jesus as their Savior.
Still, the hurt is there for you and me who have suffered a great loss. I would encourage you to look to the Lord for your comfort today and in the days and months ahead. Let His Word enter into our hearts and soothe our sorrow and heal our wounded spirits.
For this purpose let us now go to the Word. This text came to me when it became evident that Hilda was going to receive the full measure of the blessings of eternal life. Listen to these words from Acts, chapter 9 as we consider “A Godly Woman Raised Alive.”
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner (Acts 9:36–43).
There she was—a woman who had done so much in the congregation as she served the Lord. She had been known by many as one who was a follower of Christ Jesus who trusted Him as her personal Savior. As a response to the faith which the Holy Spirit worked in her heart she was a woman who was filled with works of charity. She had been active and alive in Christ. She was the kind of person who was willing to work very hard and for long hours in the service of the Lord. No wonder, many church women’s groups that serve the poor have taken her translated name for theirs—perhaps you’ve heard of Dorcas Societies.
Yet in the course of time, Tabitha became sick and this was a sickness which was extremely serious. After a while she died. Then she was prepared for burial and laid in a room until the time came for her to be placed in her grave.
In the meantime, they sent for the pastor—two men went to tell Peter of the news and to ask him to come to where she was. When he arrived, the widows were weeping and showing Peter and one another some of the coats, garments, and things which Tabitha had made.
Perhaps you, like me, thought about some of the things that Hilda had sewn—quilts, aprons, teddy bears and many other things she had made for her family, charities, and church functions. The faith that she & Herman modeled and nurtured among their children and which has been passed on to succeeding generations. Up until very recently, Hilda was a regular at Bible study and Ladies Aid. Her children remember that as they were growing up they had to be at family devotions and even if friends had come to pick them up they couldn’t leave until they were finished.
Hilda had a great sense of humor and like to have fun and make people laugh. At family gatherings and bridal and baby showers Hilda always made sure there was some fun game or skit that everyone participated in, often something she had written herself. The staff of Sunrise Village mentioned her quick wit. Whenever I came to visit her, she had a wisecrack or quick comeback.
For many years, Hilda was a very busy lady.
But there came a day when she could work no more—when age had sapped her strength and when needle and thread could not be picked up. It was at such a time when all the acts of charity and all the good works must be laid down. It was time for what was really important. Hilda found joy in her family. Even in the last days of her life, Hilda still enjoyed the comfort of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even in her last days, Hilda shared her faith and hope even as her family returned the favor.
Tabitha and Hilda share much in common. Just as Tabitha was a disciple, so was Hilda. She became one early in her life when the Holy Spirit worked faith in her heart beginning on January 6, 1924 with the washing of water and regeneration of Holy Baptism at her home at Olivet, South Dakota. She publicly confessed that faith in the Rite of Confirmation on March 21, 1937 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Boyden, Iowa. She remained faithful to her Lord—trusting Jesus. Hilda regularly gathered with her brothers and sisters in Christ to hear the Word of God and receive the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of her sins and strengthening of faith. When she could not longer make it to the Church the Church came to her as I visited her at Jasper Sunrise Village.
Tabitha and Hilda are like so many Christians who have been touched by the Lord’s promise of eternal life. The temptation might be to stop at this point and say no more. But to do so would be incomplete—it would be wrong.
Let’s go back to the Scriptures with Tabitha for a moment. She had been prepared for burial, which was not in accordance with the will of the Lord at the time. God used Peter to make the command that Tabitha should arise and that is just what she did. Death could not hold that woman because when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the tomb, death was defeated and eternal life was guaranteed for God’s people.
As with Tabitha, so also Hilda’s mortal remains have been prepared for burial. But the grave will not be able to hold them either. God will send His angel and with the sound of the trumpet on the Last Day they shall arise. Take comfort in that and know that those who fall asleep in the Lord will be raised and reunited with loved ones who also remain faithful.
Keep with you, all you who are children of the heavenly Father the assurance and the confidence that Jesus proclaimed in our Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).
I began speaking of a book which our church uses to keep track of the acts of the congregation. Hilda’s name will be entered into that book and I am quite confident that in the future more names will be written in the blank lines of that book in the days and months and years to come. Who will they be? I cannot say. Only that Lord knows that information.
But I do know this: Unless the Lord Jesus comes to end all history during our lifetime, then you and I will most certainly occupy a place similar to the earthly remains of Hilda. Are you ready for that to happen? I can’t tell you when that will be, but I can inform you most certainly that it will take place. Is your spiritual relationship with the Lord such that when your time arrives the Lord will have your name written in the Book of Life and will proclaim to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master!”? It was for Hilda and I pray that it may be for you. Or have you been ignoring the Lord Jesus; doing your own thing and starving yourself spiritually? Have you been drifting away from God, or, have you never really known Him? Each day, each hour and each minute you are moving closer to a time when a group of people will be gathered around what will be left of you, just as you and I are gathered around the earthly remains of our departed sister in Christ. I pray that you will be ready for that day!
Hilda has entered into her rest—she has been taken from battle to victory, from struggle to triumph, and from sorrow to gladness. After her pilgrimage here on this earth she has been called to the eternal city of the Lord. She is in everlasting joy as she has been taken into the bosom of the Lord. Behold, a godly woman made alive!
May God grant that we may be aware of the necessity of watching, praying, worshiping, and being ready for that day as well. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.