Harry, our daughter’s godfather, will spend his first Easter in the company of the Church Triumphant. Carol, his sweet wife, will not have him physically by her side for the first time in almost seven decades. They knew each other from their first year at college in Ohio and, then, fell in love when he was at West Point and were married after his graduation. Throughout his Army career, they were together all but the thirteen months he was in Vietnam and, then, briefly apart during a particular season of training.
Having moved here in 1984 from Stillwater OK when Harry, a retired Lieutenant Colonel and newly minted PhD from Colorado, accepted a business professorship at UNCW, they became fully invested in St. Matthew’s life together. In retirement, Harry was integral to the smooth running of the office data systems and heavily invested in the Finance Team. Carol and he had begun worshiping on Saturday nights about the time we came to St. Matthew’s. As Laura got to know them, she prayerfully decided they should be our daughter’s local godparents. First, Carol was heavily involved and, then, Harry. It was a God deal.
For all of our daughter’s growing years, every major milestone included Harry and Carol. Harry and our daughter share a birthday 75 years apart. Carol’s birthday and our wedding anniversary are the same day. It seemed fitting that their wedding anniversary turned out to be our daughter’s confirmation day. Harry was not feeling well that morning but insisted on being there. He had a stroke during the service and almost died. God gave him more time with Carol, and, when he did have the heart attack that finally took his life, Harry insisted on living until the day after Laura’s and our daughter’s baptismal birthdays. It was his final gift of love to them in this life, but, oh, what a joyful reunion is coming forever!
This will be the first sunrise service that my “girls” and Harry and Carol won’t be sitting together to shout “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” There were always gifts back and forth. Theirs were always more generous than we expected or deserved. But on Easter, I will walk out to the Memorial Garden where Harry is buried and thank God for the love he showed to our family again and again and especially to my little girl.
Our Lord Jesus told His disciples that whatever we leave behind in following Him we will receive back so much more. That is how we feel about Harry and Carol. Receiving the call to St. Matthew’s, we left behind our surviving parents (my Mom and Laura’s Dad and his sweet wife Maggie) and siblings of varying degrees of closeness. When our daughter was three, Laura’s Dad died suddenly. When she was five, my Mom went after almost 91 years and a slow descent into Alzheimer’s. About once a year, we would go to Texas to reconnect with Maggie and with some of our siblings, but it was a long trip with very short visits.
Harry and Carol became our family close at hand. We celebrated the big days in conjunction with worship as is proper for Christians. Going out to eat on special days was always easy, fun, and fitting. As with the old liturgy, it was meet and right so to do. We made many memories to sustain us. These days, we gather with Carol for family meals and find ourselves remembering Harry. That’s how good grief works.
Tomorrow, we will sing, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” the words taken from today’s reading from Job. But tonight, at the Vigil, we will sing Luther’s Easter hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.” We will remember that the reign of death is ended. Harry is alive, and he will be present with the Church Triumphant as we surround the altar to receive our Lord’s true Body and precious Blood. Where the Lord is, there is His Church, His whole Church, which is what we mean by “catholic.”
Dear Father, thank you for Harry’s life, love, and witness and for all the dear unsung saints who help us to remember the promise of our Baptism. We are Yours and You are ours forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put forty-six pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.