22 11 2011

Designing Christmas flyers. Planning Sunday’s service. Taking the funeral of a still-born child. Helping at the youth club. Just an ordinary day in vicar-land.

One of the privileges and responsibilities of being Anglican is the funeral ministry, which goes largely unseen by the majority of people. A funeral can contain a variety of emotions, most of which we British attempt to stifle in an attempt to show some decorum and not upset Aunty Rita.

Generally speaking we the public don’t know what to do with funerals. We have a picture in our mind that they should be ‘proper’, sort of ‘churchy’, i.e. straight-laced and a bit dull, and preferably cold. But if mentions of God could be kept to minimum because we’re not really religious, please.

Last week I took the funeral of a still-born child, and there isn’t much that sums up sadness like a mum & dad grieving for the loss of a child they were never able to parent. There isn’t much that sums up hopes being dashed than the death of a child before it is born. Usually in a funeral you can at least call it a celebration of life, you can remember some good things even in the bleakest of lives; but not here. Only hopes, never to be realised.

I told someone I was taking the service, and they said “I wouldn’t know where to start. What on earth do you say?” That is an excellent place to start, I said, because the Bible is not a textbook of trite answers to life’s problems and we are not inadequate if we have nothing to say. That is when we lament.

So I thought I would offer what I did say in my address to this young couple grieving the loss of their first child and so much more. Maybe it’s not what you would have said. It’s not a treatise on death and maybe it’s too simple. But it’s a start. I began by reading Psalm 139.1-18

I wonder what you might want to say to God at a time like this. And I wonder what God might say back to us. Much of the Bible is a record of people’s conversations with God, and you may be surprised to know that there is an awful lot of ranting at God, and an awful lot of lamenting. Lamenting when things have gone wrong, grieving for things that have been lost. The Psalms are full of people opening their hearts boldly before God. This shows us that this is a good thing. God is not fragile, and God knows that you are hurting. And he encourages us to get those feelings out into the open.

The bible also tells us God’s response to our lament, which isn’t to tell us to ‘pull ourselves together’, ‘deal with it’ or ‘move on’. No, God’s response is one of love. God’s response is what we remember at Christmas – that God is not a distant God who remains distant, but God became a human, yes even a fragile human baby – so that he could dwell with us in amongst our pain and our sorrow.

When Jesus grew up, we read about him at the grave of his friend Lazarus, where Jesus wept. Jesus knew sorrow. Jesus saw pain and sorrow all around him and Jesus knows that not every story has a happy ending. This is how realistic our faith is. There is no escapism in trusting Jesus. As Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, so he weeps with you.  

But as Jesus stands with us in our pain Jesus also leads us through the pain of death to the hope beyond. As Jesus died and was raised to life, so we believe that we die and we are also raised to new life. Baby x has gone from this life, which is what we are here to mark and that hurts; baby x is with God. But may it be some comfort for you, and give you some hope, that God is with you right now. There is a hope for you two, for your lives together and for your love for each other which baby x will always be part of; hope that comes from Jesus who is the way the truth and the life, and who offers us life in this world and the next.

So there we are. I’m big on lament. One of church’s lost disciplines.




9 responses

22 11 2011

Kevin, you write and deal with this so sensitively and bring God’s very heart to this situation. He grieves deeply, I believe, over every little one whose breathing doesn’t make it to the air and I pray for a consuming sense of Gods compassion and comfort for the young couple you met.

22 11 2011

Superb- thank you. If we lived in the same place we may end up getting on!

Thanks for describing an average day too…

22 11 2011

Very thought provoking. My sister lost 2 babies, one to still birth and one lived only 2 hours. When I look back to what happened to her in death I think now it was a blessing that she did only have 3 children and not 5 to lament her passing.
What I would like to ask, is, do children go to heaven? I would hope so because they were never able to understand and choose to give their lives to Christ.

22 11 2011
Ana Achucarro

You often write with great sensitivity and profound insight, and you have done so about the beloved still born baby. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and feelings. God Bless you

22 11 2011

Brilliant. Today’s worldview is all about quick fixes and man putting things right. Its only when we are confronted by events like this that we see the bigger picture. God isn’t to be confused with Santa Claus or a technocrat, sent to deliver ephemeral happiness. He is here sharing our anger and loss, whether we are called Christians or not. And actually people at that stage aren’t looking for answers, whatever they say, they are looking for somebody to share the loss with them.

A service like that was probably much more important in the daily vicar grind than a well planned Christmas knees-up. But then I would never accuse you of producing one of those!

22 11 2011

Thank you. You wouldn’t believe how timely your words are.

24 11 2011
Excelling In Life | bummyla

[…] still.born.lament ( […]

1 01 2012

Our baby died just after Christmas and we could not even go to the service
as we were so shocked and upset about what happened. The pain remains
especially at Christmas and few understand. I found your words very comforting and your expression of the word ‘lament’ had profound resonance. People do want people to move on but to remain in a situation of appreciating the need to lament feels more genuine. Many thanks,..

1 01 2012

Thank you so much for sharing, at such a difficult time. I hope you find your place for lament and your place for hope. Our faith is not triumphalist and faux-joyful, but very real at the darkest of times. God bless you.

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