I’ve just returned from the cemetery, at which I presided over the burial of a 9-day old baby boy.
The baby never had much of a chance at life; born 10 weeks premature with complications too many to count, he wasn’t supposed to last one day, let alone nine. But he was a fighter, who hung on for hours even after the machines were unplugged.
The feelings at the grave side were palpable: anger, unbelief, shock, anguish, hopelessness…. The whole spectrum.
Certainly expected. Completely understandable. The intensity itself was intense.
And the pastor, who is, after all, merely human, is touched by this intensity.
Then the fear and self-doubt sets in. ‘I’m supposed to speak some Word which will…, what? Make things better? Take the pain away? Make sense of it all? Give everyone hope and peace so they can get back to their lives and their jobs and their homes as if they just had a 24-hour bug? How the hell do I do that? Can I even do that?’
And in that acknowledgment, there is direction, there is purpose for being here. The Pastor does have a Word to speak.
So we begin with honesty.
“The fact that we have to be here today is just wrong.”
The tears begin.
Not a bad thing. In fact, it means that this Word has spoken to their reality, brought the demon into the light and named it.
More truth. Might as well go into the deep water.
“And talking about a loving God who cares for all of us and doesn’t want us to suffer, can, in a situation like this, sound like a cruel joke.”
The religious demon needs to be named here, too. Too often the Church has not named this demon. Too often we have made Jesus into a kind of Zeus: all powerful, all controlling, capriciously deciding who lives and who dies, against whom we have no recourse but resignation and despair.
But the pastor is, quite intentionally, not a spokesperson for Zeus.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the kids come! Don’t get in their way. They are as much a part of the reign of God as anyone else.'”
This is the story that was read over the baby when he was baptized, still in the hospital, still connected to the machines, tubes still going everywhere, wearing a gown provided by the nurses.
This is the story that was read when it had become obvious that he was not going to make it; that he was, in fact, going to die.
And now it was being read as he was buried.
“This Jesus, this Jesus who welcomed children, does not sit off in heaven making decisions about our lives. This Jesus comes to us, and suffers with us, and cries in hospital rooms, and moans at gravesides, and takes 9-day old babies and the baby’s parents and the baby’s grandparents and the baby’s aunts and uncles and the baby’s friends who never even met him, into his arms.
This Jesus says, to the baby, and to everyone here, ‘You are as much a part of God’s reign as anyone else.’
We belong to God, even here. With whatever feelings you have. Now or tomorrow. That’s the promise.”
The father lowers the ashes into the ground. Tears are shed.
“Our Father” is prayed. Tears are shed.
“God bless you all, now and always.” Tears are shed.
And Jesus took them, gathered them in his arms, and blessed them.
Blessed them all.
Including the Pastor.
And all of this through a 9-day life.