A sermon for the Mass celebrating the life of Erling Hansen (1948-2011), offered at All Souls on August 6, 2011.
I love the personal names, the proper names of the immediate Hansen clan: Knut, Erik, Katrine. Though I’ve only met several of you today, I’ve known your names for some time. The surname, comes initially from the first person called Hansen, who was the “son of Hans.” Erling, means the “heir of the clanchief,” not the Earl himself, but a little Earl of sorts, an Erling.
Names are important to most of us and we can see in scripture that names are often very important to God. Sometimes when one has an important interaction with God, one undergoes a name-change. Abram becomes Abraham. Sarai becomes Sara. Peter is renamed Cephas, meaning “rock.” We grow out of names and we grow into names. And sometimes a name becomes a part of us.
This can happen with place-names, as well.
Erling and I shared a common history with the place known as Havre de Grace, Maryland. Supposedly named by Lafayette because it made him think of Le Havre, Havre de Grace is the place where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake, and Erling and Deion kept a boat there. I served a parish there, though we did not overlap until I came here to All Souls.
It’s no small thing to me that Erling felt comfortable and alive in a place named “harbor of grace.” The “harbor” part makes sense, given Erling’s love of the water. We are born in water, we are baptized in water, we are blessed with water at our burial. Erling spent a lot of time with water. “Harbor of grace” is also appropriate given the grace and the peace with which Erling lived (and died.) In this community, and I would imagine in other areas of his life, Erling brought grace, pointed to grace, encouraged others toward grace, and he embodied grace.
Tomorrow’s scripture reading at the Gospel would have in some ways been an appropriate reading for today. It’s the story in which Jesus goes away to pray alone while the disciples take the boat out. They’re far from land, in the middle of the water. But out of nowhere, Jesus approaches, as though he’s walking on the water. Peter ventures out on the water to reach Jesus but when the wind picks up, Peter becomes afraid and begins to sink. Jesus catches him (with a laugh) and says, “why did you doubt?”
We doubt for lots of reasons. But the part of Erling I knew stood in the midst of winds and storms of all kind. He remained calm. He remained loving. He remained connected to those he loved and to the God he loved. Jesus and Erling look to us now and say, “why do you doubt.” It’s all going to be fine. There is grace: sweet, still, clear, calm grace. The water has not so much as a ripple. There’s barely a breeze, because in every direction, as far as the eye can see, there is love, and there is grace, and there is God.
Thanks be to God for the life of Erling Hansen. May his soul rest in peace and rise in glory.