[Job 19:23-27 / 2 Cor 5:1-9 / John 11:21-27]
Lucille and Bernice, Family and friends of Wilma Henke, I hardly need to tell you that to us at St. Paul’s your Wilma Henke was a well known and much loved character. From the day I left the mess with the coffee in the kitchen and she let me know in no uncertain terms that “we don’t have maid service at this church, Pastor” I knew she was one special woman. When there was a hard task at hand to communicate, who got to do it but Wilma? SHE got to tell Florence that her stitching wasn’t what it used to be and that she shouldn’t quilt anymore! Who else but Wilma could have pulled that off? A woman that minced no words about what she thought about anything, but who had a heart of gold – the gruff words were the slightest covering over a heart that was tender, kind, and always ready to love. She had been touched by Jesus Christ and anyone who knew her knew that.
Whether she was washing up dishes after a ladies aid luncheon or keeping the silver ware and plates flowing at the sausage supper, those bright blue eyes twinkled with merriment and the joy of being with God’s people.
So it was quite something when Wilma began to change a bit. “In this tent we groan,” said St. Paul, “longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” Her tent began to fray and tatter. First the whole business with her heart (who can forget holy week THAT year???); then the progress of the macular degeneration; and what zapped her merriment more than anything else – how could it not – the loss of her beloved Marvin and Bill. Add that to the long ago loss of Harold and of her sister. It weighed on her something fierce. And so she knew something about the groaning that St. Paul spoke of.
Yet for all that, her faith did not waiver. Like old Job she looked death square in the face and defied it. She too knew that she had a Redeemer who lived, who had answered for her every sin (and she’d be the first to tell you that she was but a poor miserable sinner) and who would raise her body from the dust on the last day when she would see Him face to face. She believed this, and so – well, you know – she was rather impatient with Death. Already years ago, I remember her sitting here in church and sobbing quietly before a funeral of a friend. When I sat beside her she asked: Why can’t it be me?
Wilma, busy, active, and as bustling in the kitchen as Martha – it did not sit well with her to be sidelined. To have to sit back and be waited on. To have to depend on others. SHE was the busy one, the one in charge. We talked about it, though, and she confessed that it wasn’t hers to decide. She would have to wait upon the Lord. But the Lord she waited on was the One who had spoken His promise to her years before: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Jesus asked Martha if she believed that; he asked Wilma too. And they both answered the same way: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
So Jesus got to be Lord, not Wilma. And Jesus had His way, which she learned to endure. A heavy burden for such an active doer. But even when it weighed her down, there were other times when the old Wilma just positively shone. Those bright blue eyes of hers twinkling and her “Oh, go on.” She continued to bring joy to so many of us right up to the end.
And we know that she was past ready to go; but we weren’t ready to lose her. You either, I’m sure. But one thing we always rejoiced in together: that whenever we shared the Supper, the Body and Blood of her Redeemer, the Victory Meal of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, we knew we weren’t alone. We were with them – the ones that have gone one before in the same faith in the same Redeemer. We sat on one side of the table and they on the other, but we were together with them. And, my friends, that’s true for you still. When you really miss Wilma, don’t think of her grave; think of her at the Lord’s Table. I’m sure He’ll have His hands full making her sit down and eat and letting Him take care of the serving and clean up, but anyway we look at it, when we share the Holy Eucharist together, we’re with Wilma and she’s with us. “With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” As she feasted regularly at that table on this side, you do the same, and you’ll know the comfort she found there. For no matter what tears had come before, almost always afterwards it was time for stories and laughter and the old Wilma.
She wouldn’t like me calling her that, would she? Well, you know what I mean. We’ll miss her right along with you – you whom she loved so very, very much and of whom she was so proud. Her earthly tent we lay to rest today; but it will be raised and made new. She was utterly confident of that. And you can be too. Amen.
Wilma L. Henke, age 91, of Staunton, died at 6:25 a.m., on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008, at Community Memorial Hospital in Staunton. She was born on July 10, 1917, in Livingston, the daughter of the late Herman W. and Wilhemina Schoenemann Sievers. She married Harold William Henke on May 16, 1937, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Staunton. He preceded her in death on Nov. 11, 1978. She is survived by a daughter: Lucille W. Otto of Olney, Md.; a daughter-in-law: Bernice Henke of Worden; a brother: Herman Sievers of Glen Carbon; two sisters: Alma Schmidt of Glen Carbon and Leona Sewing of Mount Olive; two grandchildren; three step grandchildren; two great grandchildren and seven step great grandchildren. Along with her parents and her husband, she is preceded in death by a son: Marvin H. Henke on May 7, 2006; a son-in-law: William C. Otto on March 1, 2003; and a sister: Esther Sievers. Mrs. Henke was born in Olive Township near Livingston. She and her husband lived at her family farm from 1948 to 1968. They lived in Hamel from 1968 to 2006. She cooked for a short time at the Galaxy Restaurant in Alhambra. She enjoyed Cardinals Baseball, sewing, quilting and playing cards.