Barbara May; Earl Simoneau; Pete Hagberg; Bob Lampo; Mille Sgambati; Stephie Walters; Carolyn Horner; Walt and Ethel Zabel; Irma Martin; Kris Jensen; Roth Leibegot, Janet Brown and so many others (including Alice’s husband Cliff)… as those who have entered the church triumphant.
Alice – who so joyfully served in our church office for what must have seemed like eternity; runs the race now in eternity with such a great cloud of witnesses.
Alice and that cloud of witnesses ran with us here at St. Paul for over 50 years now – through the struggles of starting a church in a Messonic Hall and each other’s homes; through growth and conflict, change, growth again, building projects, more growth, and all the challenges that entails, through booms and recessions, life transitions, illnesses, diseases, loss, death, and an ever-certain hope in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the pioneer and perfector of our faith.
With the whole church today we bid them thanks. We bid Alice thanks as well.
And we give thanks to God 98 years; almost a century; of her run with her Lord, Jesus.
In these last years, Alice became more physically and cognitively diminished. The strides may have shortened but the race remained. Just as it remains for each of us now. This congregation ran with her; through prayers and visits, laughs and stories, told again and again, even (and especially) when she forgot.
Along with them came the promise of Jesus Christ who never let her go:
“I have called you by name, Alice Gerber. You are mine.”
The race runs on. Even in times when we must carry each other.
Not that Alice needed that. She’d much rather drive. Full throttle. Through her garage if she needed to…or on a bridge home; or opened-up on a back road just to see what that car could do.
Everyone I’ve talked to about Alice – begins with a great big smile.
-Former pastors who are here today, or have sent greetings.
-Friends who have jumped in to sing or be part of the service.
-Those police officers who pulled her over all those years ago, as with that same big smile,
She sweet talked herself out of yet another ticket for going too fast, or rolling through a stop, or ignoring traffic lights all together.
Even her family – recalling that bridge accident from years ago,can’t help but tell it with a smile, with grandeur, with the love of stories and telling them, accompanied by the same big smile Alice shared with them now reflected in their storytelling; with love and humor and a respect that still asks, “What would Grammy do?”
That tribute says a lot about a person. And Alice has helped point the way.
This Gospel story of Jesus is an Easter story.
Here we are on the eve of what in our tradition as Lutheran Christians is a High Holiday –in the celebration of the Protestant Reformation; recalling our history of following Jesus, in what both the prophet Habakkuk and the Apostle Paul in Romans claims: “the righteous live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17).
Not earned. Not deserved. Not sweet-talked in any way; but given in the promise of Jesus Christ’s death on a cross – For you. For me. For Alice. For the world. Yet this is an Easter story. A story not of death but life. New life. Unexpected life.
Two disciples walk with Jesus. One is named. The other is left un-named. Cleopas stands in for all those in the cloud of witness in our lives who ran and continue to run the race of faith. The un-named disciple is you. Or Alice. Each of us. Walking along. Entering the story. Joining Jesus every step of the way. Especially when we don’t realize it, or recognize he’s there at all.
Remember the promise: “I have called you by name. You are mine.”
They got to the place to where they were going. And it was late. They asked Jesus to stay.
But it was only once they broke the bread did they see he was among them. Only then did their hearts burn within the story. Only then did it become their story too. That Christ is risen. They are risen. New life – has come, “and the righteous live by faith.”
I remember the first time I met Alice. I went with another disciple from St. Paul to visit her. Alice I had no idea who I was. Or why I came to see her.
Then we shared the breaking of the bread. In the promise declared: “The body of Christ, given for you,” she lit up. She met me with that great big smile – reflected in each of you when you talk about her. Her heart was burning. And so was mine. Jesus showed up.
And when I gave her the body of Christ she replied only in delight…“Oooooo!”
May we who gather now:
- Who have come with sadness and lament;
- Who have come to celebrate Alice and say goodbye;
- Who have come to be reminded of the race that is still ahead of us;
meet Jesus once more in the breaking of the bread. Who places us once more in the story; who gives us burning hearts; to remember who we are, and smile. That in the great surprise of Easter, join Alice in our most excellent proclamation:
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah[j]should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)