In Memoriam: +Hans Witalski+

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I only met Hans once. It was back on December 15th in the hospital, and he was in pretty bad shape. He had been tied down to the bed—for his own good, of course—so he wouldn’t rip the medical equipment off or fall out. Hilde told me when I saw him, that wasn’t even the worst of it.

As I think about Hans’ condition that night, I’m reminded of the time Jesus healed a man in the region of the Gerasenes, who was kept under close watch and bound with chains and shackles (Luke 8:29). I was also reminded of something the Lord once said in the Gospel of St. John: everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34).

This is something we all share in common, you, me, and in his earthly pilgrimage, Hans. As St. Paul says in Romans 7: I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:14b—15).

It’s easy to forget that we are slaves to sin. After all, we have a great deal of freedom in this life and by God’s grace, we often exercise it. But occasionally something happens that reminds us of our sin and our slavery to it. As Hans lay there fastened to his bed, there was no denying it: he was of the flesh, sold under sin.   

But Jesus would not leave Hans in his slavery, nor would he leave you in yours. We hear about our release from the prison of sin in Christ in Luke 4:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” (Luke 4:16-21).

Freedom is found in Christ for those who were prisoners of sin.For Jesus has thrown off the shackles of the grave, that final prison. On the Third Day news of the Great Breakout went forth: He is not here [in the grave], for He has risen, as He said (Matthew 28:6).

Freedom from the grave is a privilege Jesus gives to all who all who are baptized and believe (Mark 16:16). In Holy Baptism, Jesus broke the bonds of sin that held Hans captive. Being bound to all the beds and graves in the world could not separate Hans from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).

Even in the midst of Hans’ agony in that hospital, the power of God’s Word to bring him freedom from his agony was evident. Hilde and I sang hymns and prayed together at Han’s bedside, just as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns while in prison. And you know what happened? As we sang, Hans calmed down and even fell into a peaceful sleep. Even though we find ourselves in bondage to sin, the Word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:8). It brings comfort to the weary and proclaims liberty to the captives.

God’s Word brings comfort even to you today as your mourn. Isaiah’s comforting proclamation we heard a little earlier applies to Hans: There is gloom no more for [him] who was once in anguish (Isaiah 9:1). So does St. Paul’s: [Hans is] no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:7). So fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people. For unto us a child is born, Whose Name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Son of David, Savior of Mankind, Christ the Lord (Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:10—11).

The Christ Child was born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth (LSB, 380; st. 3). This Child goes with you all the way—today, tomorrow, every day—His love is never ending. And what joy to know that when life is past, the Lord we love, Who is first and last, will one day, oh glorious grace, transport us to that happy place, with Hans, beyond all tears and sinning (LSB, 395; st. 5 &6).

Just as Christ once granted Hans a blessed slumber that night in the hospital, so now Christ has granted Hans the blessed rest from which our Lord will awaken him on the Last Day.In Jesus is found freedom for all prisoners of sin: for Hans, for you, and for me.Amen, Amen: Come Lord Jesus, Crown of Gladness, we are yearning for the day of Your returning (LSB, 395; st. 6)!

Soli Deo Gloria

+ Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 2:1—14
In Memoriam: +Hans Witalski+
Saturday of the First Sunday in Christmas, 2014
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