Saturday, January 10, 2015
Homily for the Christian Funeral of Viola E. Hager
John 14:1-6; Philippians 4:10-13; Isaiah 35:3-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for the life and faith our Lord granted to our dear departed sister in Christ Viola Hager. And, there is so very much to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for: Viola’s baptism into Jesus; eighty-two years lived in the Lord’s grace and mercy; a great many years devoted to the service of others in need through the Salvation Army; service in the Lutheran Church; service in the United Methodist Church; and, most recently, service in the Lutheran Church once again. Viola was a woman of strong faith, and faith that was made evident in action. As St. James has written, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” – that was Viola. She was fruitful in good works for the Lord – good works that were the fruit of the faith that the good Lord created and sustained within her.
Thus, not surprisingly, Viola was not a woman to sit around and do nothing. Even when her body didn’t move like it used to, her mind was quick and sharp and aware of what needed to be done. In the Salvation Army, Viola was known as the Roadrunner. She received this moniker because of the many miles she put on her cars driving to Salvation Army functions, mission endeavors, and Bible camps, filming and documenting them, rarely missing an event. Anita tells me that she put 270,000 miles on her Impala – and it wasn’t done yet! – and that she put 300,000 miles on the Impala before that! I’m not sure if that makes Viola Chevrolet’s best, or worst, customer!
Even as a child, Viola was determined, active, and fearless. She used to roller-skate and leap over garbage cans in the Bronx where she grew up. At the United Methodist Church in Davenport, Viola, single-handedly, was the Sunshine Committee, sending birthday and get well cards and little gifts to members and visiting shut-ins and those in the hospital or in nursing homes. When she spent time in the nursing home for physical rehabilitation, she took the opportunity to evangelize her roommates. Even at the King’s Apartments this past year, she oversaw the card games and the crafts, not officially, of course, and she saved seats for friends and neighbors attending dinners. It was my experience at Bible studies that Viola kept a record of precisely the page number and the chapter and verse where we left off previously. Anita tells me that she was the record-keeper of the Wednesday night Bible study as well. And, Viola made certain that family and friends, far and wide, were on the prayer lists of the church and were prayed for regularly by our Bible study groups. Indeed, we have prayed regularly for her sister Julia, for a couple from the Salvation Army, for a relative in Finland, and for countless others. That was Viola: Always thinking of others, looking out for others, being concerned for others, up to her last days. That was her faith – faith in action.
Though she had visited several times with Anita over the years, Viola did not begin to attend Christ the King regularly until she moved into The King’s Apartments in December of 2013. Shortly after that, it was a rare thing for Viola to miss a Divine Service, a Bible study, or any event in the church. It was through her participation in the King’s Apartments Bible study, however, that I got to know Viola. Mostly she sat quietly and listened. However, I knew when what we were discussing connected with her, for she would begin to nod her head up and down in agreement. I’m happy to say that Viola nodded her head quite a lot. From the beginning to the end, though she attended other churches for periods of a time, deep down, Viola was a Lutheran. That’s exactly what she told the folks at the Methodist Church in Davenport, and she refused to become a member there.
That’s something I appreciated about Viola: She didn’t always have a lot to say, but she was direct and straight in whatever she chose to say. Her words were truth – period. She offered world of comfort, words of rebuke, and words of confession, that is, words of faith. I think that the words of St. Paul to the Philippians describe her well: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” And, that’s a wonderful thing. Her strength and resoluteness came, not from herself, but from her Lord. Again, St. Paul’s confession could easily be Viola’s: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is why she could be a source of strength and comfort for others – she gave of what she had received. In truth, only those who have received from the Lord have something to give and to share with others. Likewise, I can imagine Viola sharing Jesus’ words from St. John’s Gospel, or similar words, with her roommate in the nursing home: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. […] I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Perhaps she even shared the words of Isaiah to those with anxious hearts: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come.”
For eighty-two years Viola shared the truth and strength and comfort and consolation of the Lord and His Word in her own words and deeds, helping many, strengthening the weak hands and making firm the feeble knees. It was truly only in her last months, or last weeks even, that Viola needed others to strengthen, comfort, and console her. The poor soul simply could not hear, and her inability to hear sometimes caused her confusion and uncertainty. Pancreatic cancer was taking its toll on her body. Now she was the one with the weak hands and feeble knees. The Roadrunner was being forced to slow down and take it easy. Of course, this was not something that Viola was going to take to easily. Just days before her passing she was talking about driving her Impala again. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”; I can even face death. Viola, and all who find their strength in the Lord, can even face death because they know and believe and trust that Jesus has already faced death for them and has overcome. Indeed, this is the comfort we find in the 23rd Psalm: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” You need fear no evil because Jesus has already walked through that valley before you, and He has knocked down the door of death that would keep you in, and he has entered the Father’s house to prepare a place for you that He might come back for you and take you there. Yes, even now, as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your victorious Lord walks with you, for He promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And, thus, we take comfort now that Viola is with her Lord, even as we take comfort that, in His time, in accordance with His righteous will and wisdom, He will lead us out of the valley and through the door into His Father’s house forevermore. There, we will see and hear and hug and kiss our sister in Christ Viola again, and never again will we be apart from those we love who die in the Lord.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.