[Isaiah 35:3-10; Philippians 3:20-21; Luke 2:25-32]
Ruth, Roger and Millie, Heather & Kevin, Cassie, Roger and Dusty, family and friends of Albert Ernst - if I had to think of a single word to characterize Albert it would be INTENSE. Albert did nothing by halves. When something was eating at him, it wasn’t a little deal. It was BIG deal. And he made sure you knew it! When he was rejoicing, it wasn’t with a small joy but with big joy and laughter overflowing. He didn’t have a lot of patience with areas of gray - well, he didn’t have a lot of patience at all - he tended to think in terms of black or white. And what defined black and white for him was always nothing less than the Sacred Scriptures. He is the poster child for “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.”
A veteran of the great war for the Bible in the Missouri Synod years ago, he wasn’t afraid of stepping on someone’s toes when it came to confessing the truth. He wanted everyone to know and love the Scriptures just as he did.
And how he clung to the hope those Scriptures gave him. It saddened him to think of those who pass their lives without that hope. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live in this world WITHOUT knowing that there’s a heavenly Father who loves us, who has given His only Son to be our Savior, who has forgiven us all our sins and prepared for us a home we will never lose. He just couldn’t fathom living without that hope.
God had given him a little glimpse of home that he never forgot. He had a near-death experience with that aneurysm that left him disappointed to be still on pilgrimage. Death was not something he trembled before or feared. He had had a teasing taste of what awaits and his heart was set on it. He had seen, well, HOME. What a difference it makes to live your life knowing THIS world isn’t home, but a journey toward home!
Today’s OT reading spoke of the homecoming of God’s people: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away!” This on the day when the Lord opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf and makes the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue speak - the joyful day of Resurrection!
Albert lived that hope. He was a man on a journey, on a trip. Small wonder then he so loved to travel. As long as he was able - he and his beloved Ruth hit the road and visited all the highways and byways and saw things and visited people. And always found churches to attend and fellow pilgrims walking the way to get to meet, know and love.
Today’s epistle too strikes the same theme: our citizenship - our true home - is in heaven. And while we sojourn here on earth, we travel towards it, all the while awaiting the return of the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who at His glorious appearing will transform our lowly bodies to be like His own glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself. Albert lived in a body he knew was destined for eternity; and that’s a huge comfort as you watch your body grow ever more lowly - as you watch it cease to be what it was, so you can’t do what you want to do.
Oh, that was a trial for Al. He was a pilgrim, a man on the go, and to be stuck at home, to be sentenced to walking only from bed to chair to table to chair to bed? It was a hardship indeed. It made him long all the more for the heavenly home.
And in today’s Gospel, we can see something of a man who also grew impatient with the waiting. God had promised Simeon he’d not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. He must have often wondered: when, Lord? When will it happen? But at last the day came and there was a young mother with her baby and the Holy Spirit said: “That’s him!”
Off to hold him, to look into his eyes, to touch his infant hands. Tears no doubt welled up as he looked his Lord in the face and began to pray: “It’s okay, Lord. I can die now. I’ve seen you, the light come to lighten the Gentiles. I’ve seen you, the glory of Israel. I have seen Death's destruction! I have seen the Forgiveness of sins in human flesh! I'm ready to die."
So Albert too. He loved the little ones so much. They were all important to him. He'd hold up the line walking out of Church because he always stopped to greet the little children - they each knew HE thought they were important. I don’t think anything brought a smile to his face faster than a child. Well there was one thing, maybe. And that would the Child Simeon held that day, Jesus Christ, His Savior. Ruth said it best the day he died. “I don’t worry about where he is. He knew he was a miserable sinner and he also knew he had been redeemed.” Albert rejoiced in what His Lord had accomplished for him and for all on Calvary’s tree. Sins forgiven, death destroyed, the heavenly kingdom made our home!
On the Thursday before he died, we celebrated the Supper together one last time. He was more alert than he’d been in a long while. He said the confession and admitted he was but a poor miserable sinner and that he’d deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment, and yet he asked for mercy. The mercy was given in the absolution and then again mercy given in the Lord’s body and blood.
Into Albert’s dying flesh, the Child that Simeon held and welcomed and prayed to, the very same came with His undying flesh and blood, bring to Albert forgiveness of all sins and the promise of life everlasting.
After he received it, like Simeon, he was ready to go in peace. We talked briefly about how the fact that he was dying was nothing new - he’d known he was bound for the grave for years. There’s only one way out of this world, but that His Savior had made death a portal to life everlasting. And he said: “That’s right!” He knew where he was headed and he was not afraid to go there. He slowly began to tune out most of the world around him, until Sunday afternoon he took his last breath in this world and opened up his eyes to see the Angels and hosts of heaven welcoming him home. Journey over. Home at last.
How will you remember Albert? I shall remember him for the many intense conversations over theology - dogs in heaven? Can you say God died on the cross? Is it right to call Mary God’s Mother? Oh, countless others! I shall remember him eagerly opening his Scripture and studying it. I shall remember him always coming right to me when he had something he thought needed clearing up. I shall remember his many kind words and loving encouragement over these years. Intense, kind, stubborn, child-loving, impatient, friendly, your Albert and ours. Now home at last with the Redeemer whom he so deeply loved and whose Word was ever his delight, no doubt praying for us to remain in the faith until our departure that we might join him. And today he’d say to you: “Oh, if only you could see it! I can’t wait to show it to you! Home! Home at last!” Amen.
Albert G. Ernst, age 84, of Hamel, died at 3 p.m., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, at his residence.
He was born on Aug. 28, 1925, in Alhambra, the son of the late Albert G. and Mathilda A. Boehme Ernst.
He married Ruth M. Schumacher on Sept. 29, 1946, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel. She survives.
Along with his wife, he is survived by a son, Roger L., and wife Millie, Ernst of Edwardsville; four grandchildren: Heather, and husband Kevin, Reiseck of East Alton, Cassie Ernst of Hamel, Roger Ernst II of Wood River and Dustin Ernst of Edwardsville; three sisters: Lonita Braundmeier of Highland, Iona, and husband Irvin, Kline of Franklin, Tenn. and Marie, and husband Dale, Buck of Wilsonville, Ore.; and a brother: John, and wife Juanita, Ernst of Alhambra.
Along with his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister, Irma Clayton; and a brother: Vernon Ernst.
Albert was born and raised east of Alhambra, attending Pisgah Grade School and graduating from Mount Olive High School.
He joined the United States Army, after school. After his service, he worked for Western Cartridge in Alton. He later drove a transport for Cassens until 1950 when he started Ernst Heating and Cooling. He retired in 1987. He drove a limousine from Jen's Classic Limo Service in Hamel for five years.
He and his wife loved to travel.
His memberships included St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel, St. Paul's Men's Club, former St. Paul elder, St. Paul Church Trustee, Hamel City Board Member for 25 years, Board of Directors with the Southern Illinois District of Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, Alhambra American Legion and Hamel Volunteer Fire Department.