My beloved friend, whose parish is only 15 miles from here, finds herself conducting untimely funerals, for babes and children, far too often. Given the economic profile of parish in the valley, I'd expected to find myself in a similar position when I moved here from my affluent title post - but though there is a collection of tiny graves in the valley church yard, it wasn't until last week that I found myself standing at the head of the nave while a tiny white coffin was carried lovingly in by the little one's father.
I was worried that, having lost too many babes myself, I might be too emotional to function well - a worry that escalated when the family decided to use Coldplay's "Fix You" as the central item in the service. For various reasons, that's a song that makes me rather weepy at the best of times, but having asked pretty much everyone I know to pray, it wasn't surprising that all was well.
I did a lot of tinkering with the Common Worship service to make it feel less oppressively wordy...because, after all, there are few words that help in this situation. I found some resources that seemed right - so am posting them here for anyone else who is trying desperately to get out of God's way in this sort of situation. I found much to draw on from Dorothy McRae McMahon, and from the New Zealand Prayer Book - as well as little book that Sr Frances Dominica of Helen House put together as a resource for parents...In the end, of course, words can do little - but they do give you some comforting purpose as you stand alongside parents in their pain.
Here's what I said in the address, following 1 Corinthians 13, quite beautifully read.
These three remain, faith, hope and love...and the greatest of these is love”
There are no easy words today.
We come with hearts full of the pain of grief and with minds numb, or filled with one insistent question
And to that I have no answer.
O. has been loved and longed for over so smany weeks and we are rightly appalled that the joy of birth should be transformed sunexpectedly to the sorrow of parting.
There ARE no easy words.
At times of great suffering, people of faith look to their God for some meaning, and when that is hard to come by may at first turn away, defeated.
But we are here in church, and behind me stands the cross.
In the agony of his own death Jesus cried out
“My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”
As he voiced his own suffering he quoted too from the book of psalms, the ancient prayer book of the Jewish people. Here again and again men and women faced with situations that made no sense poured out their anger and misery in passionate lament.
To do was, and is, an act of faith.
These outpourings at least keep the conversation, the relationship with God alive, and God has broad shoulders that can hold us through the storms until the worst of the heartbreak and anger have passed.
Perhaps this might be the route for us today?
God, we are told you are compassionate:
today this is hard to believe.
God, we are told that you love us:
today we do not feel loved.
God, we are told that we should offer you our praise and thanksgivings,
today all we have to offer is anger and confusion.
God, despite these feelings we turn to you,
today there is no one else to turn to.
God, hold us until we can believe again.
God, love us until we can feel your love again.
God, accept our anger and confusion until we can offer you praise and thanksgiving again.
God, our lives and our feelings rise and fall but you remain constant.
Help us to rest in your eternal changelessness.
(Michael D. Smith, cit. Just My Reflection Frances Dominica ASSP)
Faith, then, has nothing to do with glib answers: it is, rather, the force that drives our questions.
But Hope too seems strained and broken by disappointment today.
Through the weeks since his conception, O carried many hopes - for his parents, of course, - but for each of you here in some measure. Now we are asked to lay those hopes gently down and it hurts, terribly.
But, X & Y, the very act of being here, of getting up each morning, of preparing meals even when you don't much want to eat them, of managing somehow the ordinary everyday things of life is itself an act of hope.
It says "I will not turn my face to the wall. I will carry on. However hard it may be, tomorrow matters
And love? Oh, that's both the easiest and the hardest part.
Conceived in love, carried and born in love, O knew nothing but love through every precious minute of his life, and it is in that love that he will live all your lives long.
But even beyond that, I am certain that with God nothing is ever lost or wasted.
The love the brought Jesus through the darkness of death into the dawn of everlasting life holds O secure and reaches out to each of us today.
It's hard to feel it as we struggle with grief but, like the sun behind clouds, God's love exists as an objective reality...
In a moment we'll listen to Coldplay's "Fix You.." with its overarching themes of loss and redemption.
If care and love could have helped O to live, we know he'd be with us...but now hear God's promise that O HAS been guided home, to the place where we all truly belong.
Listen and try to believe that, amid all this pain and confusion, God is still there, still saying quietly
“I will try my best to fix you”
“now these three remain, faith, hope and love...and the greatest of these is love”
Music : Fix You
Let us, in silence, give thanks for the life of this child.
Each moment of our journey with this life is precious to us.
Even as our thankfulness is overwhelmed with grief
sthat our joy is misted in pain,
we give thanks for this life and for all life.
(Space for reflection)
Lord Jesus Christ
Your took children into your arms and blessed them.
Keep O in your loving care
And bring us all to the heavenly kingdom
Where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever
God our Creator, from whom all life comes
Comfort this family,
Grieving for the loss of their hoped-for child.
Help them to find assurance
That with you nothing is wasted or incomplete
And uphold them with your love
Through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
X, Y, you are not alone.
We are here together, ordinary human beings
who travel through life's pain and possibility,
holding on to one another with surprising courage and strength,
facing each day and each moment, whatever it may hold.
In your grieving we are with you
In these next days we will be beside you.
You are surrounded and held by us all
And by the tender love of God.
Receive our love.