Wilma Hilscher (December 29, 1928 - October 9, 2016)
AS MY REDEEMER LIVES, SO SHALL I.
In the name + of Jesus.
This reading came from the final devotion I ever had with Wilma Hilscher. It was actually a prayer that was on her lips for the last year or so worth of visits I had with her. More than anything, she longed to be with Jesus. And I think she was getting a little impatient about it, too. Her prayer was continually to go to her heavenly home. Finally, on October 9, 2016, the Lord answered her prayer.
One of the reasons Wilma was so eager to go to her heavenly home is because she was not the woman she once was. I am sure that you had a hard time seeing this. She was not as vibrant or industrious or witty as you remember her. I am sure your memories are more of her teaching Sunday School, baking goodies, or knitting slippers and mittens to be donated to the underprivileged. That is understandable. God did not create us to become frail. God created us to live. And yet, because we are all sinners, none of us gets to remain as lively and robust and healthy as we are in our prime years.
To that extent, Wilma Hilscher had a few things in common with Job. Job was a man of high regard in his city. He not only held a position of trust, but he was blessed with a large family and great wealth. However, he lost everything. His wealth was stolen. His children were killed when a house collapsed on them. And finally, Job's health shriveled up like an autumn leaf. His friends were appalled at his appearance when they came to see him. It is that Job who, in the depths of his pain and suffering, makes this great confession: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
As my Redeemer lives, so shall I! Job's confession is not sentimental jibberish or wishful thinking. He is so sure of it he wants in engraved on a rock. Job was certain that his death was near, and he wanted his tombstone to declare his everlasting hope. He had a Redeemer. His Redeemer lives. And as his Redeemer lives, so shall he.
This is the Christian faith which Wilma Hilscher was baptized into. It is the faith she confessed at church, and it is the reason she went to church—to hear this promise proclaimed. At church, that Redeemer fed her with the heavenly feast at the altar, and it is the feast which she enjoys now at the heavenly banquet with her Redeemer. As her Redeemer lives, so does she.
Wilma had a Redeemer; that means she needed to be redeemed. I know you all loved her dearly, and she loved you dearly too. But our fondness for people is not what saves them. No one is perfect. We say that to excuse our sins. God says it to confront us with our sins. We all bear guilt before God for our sinful nature and for our sinful behavior. Wilma Hilscher had a sinful nature, too. Maybe you remember times when that sinful nature revealed itself in sinful words or actions. Now, since she was your mother, your grandmother, or your loved one in some capacity, you chose to overlook those things. That is not how we think of loved ones. But even if you overlook her sins, the Lord does not. He cannot. The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) That is what brings us here.
The Lord Jesus Christ did not overlook Wilma, either. But he did not act to smite her; he acted to save her. He is her Redeemer. Jesus Christ lived the holy life that none of us has lived. When Wilma was baptized, the Lord wrapped her up in his righteousness. That is how God saw her all her life. Not by her good deeds, as many as there were, is Wilma saved. It is by Jesus' holiness that she is declared to be a holy child of God.
But once again, the Lord Jesus Christ could not overlook her sin. And again, Jesus did not act to condemn her, but to save her. He is her Redeemer. The cost to redeem her and all mankind from sin and death was the cursed death of the Son of God himself. Jesus bore all her guilt when he carried it to the cross. Her sins were not overlooked. They were paid for. Jesus shed his blood for them. The benefits of Jesus' death were poured upon her in baptism. The benefits of Jesus' death were poured into her at the Lord's Supper. The benefits of Jesus' death were bestowed upon her through sermons she heard, in personal devotions she had, and Sunday School lessons she prepared for. Her sins are paid for by Jesus. He is her Redeemer, and she is his redeemed.
The Lord declared Wilma Hilscher to be a child of God. Especially in these past years, she did not look like it. She was frail and a shadow of her former self. Like Job. She suffered the effects of being a sinner in a sinful world. Because of sin, bodies age and get frail. We lose our agility, our health, and our memories. This is not how the Lord intended it to be.
But the Lord Jesus has also addressed that. The same Jesus who went into death to redeem Wilma Hilscher has risen from his grave. Jesus conquered death. He lives and reigns forever. And as Job confessed, so does every Christian: As my Redeemer lives, so shall I! Listen again to Job's words: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
As my Redeemer lives, so shall I! Like Job, Wilma is a child of the resurrection. Jesus abandoned his grave, and he will not abandon us to our graves. Death will hold us for a while, but Jesus will raise us up to live as he had always intended us to be. He will raise Wilma from the dead—not someone like Wilma. She will not become someone different. God created her to be her. God redeemed her to be her. She will be Wilma, with a glorious, incorruptible flesh, with her personality and abilities not only restored, but perfected. Jesus will raise her up with a body that will never get weak, tired, sick, or broken, nor will she ever sin or die. That is what we all pray for. That is what Wilma prayed for in the final year or so of her life. That is what Jesus delivers. As my Redeemer lives, so shall I!
The patriarch Job made this confession in his condition of disease, poverty, and misery. He would not let the pain and sorrow of his life change his confession. He wanted it permanently etched in stone. There is no need for you to be any different. Jesus, our Redeemer, lives, and he has the final word. It is written in Jesus' blood, firmer than stone—because Jesus lives and reigns forever. And as our Redeemer lives, so shall all who believe in him. So Wilma's soul does now. So her body will at the end. And so shall it be forevermore.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.