Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Most Difficult Funeral...So Far...

Two weeks ago, the funeral home called me and asked me to do a service for a family that didn't regularly attend church and who had just had twin baby girls delivered already dead, at 29 weeks. The enormity of this task took some time to dawn on me (I got the call in the middle of the first night of VBS), and I finally sat before my computer late that Sunday night, with my Book of Worship open at my side, feeling as though I had absolutely nothing to say to this family.

Ultimately, I came up with something to say, thanks in large part to spending enough time in prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, even in the short amount of time I had--well, those things and spending time looking through the Book of Worship and finding more helpful resources than I initially realized were there...and I got it all together, not a moment too soon. And I held it together reasonably enough to read through it...while my heart was torn to shreds by the situation. I share this message with you, in the hope that maybe someone else will need to read this and also that someone else could offer me thoughts in how to feel better equipped to minister in situations like this again. What could I say differently or better, in this kind of situation? I appreciate any insights on this.

Here's what I wrote and said (for the most part), aside from the liturgy:

Scripture Readings
Psalm 103:13-19
Mark 10:13-16

I have to be honest with you—I’ve never done a service like this before. I have struggled with what words to say today. Nothing comes easily, in the face of a tragedy like this, except for questions and emptiness and pain and sorrow. Nothing seems fair or right.

You don’t know me—I’ve only just met most of you—but if you did know me, you’d know it’s rare for me to have no words to say. Today, as we stand here together, as we look beyond what we can see in the here and now, into the mysteries of God we know nothing about, as we stand clinging to a tiny beam of hope in the midst of a great darkness of pain and sorrow, I am silenced. I can’t tell you, “it will all be OK.” I can’t tell you, “everything happens for a reason.” I can’t tell you, “God needed those two precious babies.” I don’t believe any of that.

Here’s what I can tell you and what I do believe, though: that God does care, that God cries with us today, and that Jesus loves each one here more than we can understand. Sometimes, death makes it feel like God doesn’t care about us, and unexplained tragedy and hurt make it seem like Jesus can’t possibly love us, but I know the song is true—“yes, Jesus loves me…”—and he loves each of us gathered here.

There may not be a good explanation for what has happened. There is no easy way to get through it and to make the pain go away and see “the bright side,” once again. But I believe that God is here. And I believe that just as Jesus blessed the little children long ago, he still cares for each one. I believe in the promises that the psalm-writer believed—that God’s faithful love lasts forever.

In moments like this, it is not easy to believe. In moments like this, it is easier to ask questions and have hard feelings. And I understand that. And I promise you all, no matter what, God is with you in the midst of this. God will be with you when the pain is less and there are happier days. And Jesus’ love will be there for you, whenever you can say once again that you believe. God is patient. God waits for us and with us through our darkest times and welcomes us home when we are able to come back, even when we’ve been through loss like this and have lots of questions. God holds us when we are grieving. We are not alone, and we are not unloved. Take comfort in knowing this, and in remembering, “Yes, Jesus loves even me!”

And we believe that God has already welcomed these two precious children to him. And Jesus has loved them, too.