Jesus said to the crowd: ‘When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’ (Luke 12:11-12)
It was one of those sombre drizzly grey days of winter. The large car entered the cemetery. A young couple got out of the back seat and walked over to the grave site. I quickly put on my alb and priestly stole and joined them, prayer book in hand. The funeral director opened the boot of the car and lifted out a white box, scarcely bigger than a shoe box. It was the coffin of the couple’s first child.
I hadn’t asked whether the child had died before or after its birth. Details like that seemed irrelevant in the face of the palpable grief of parenthood so quickly snatched away, almost before it had begun. I read the service, prayed the prayers, with the four of us standing around a hole in the ground. Beyond that I had no words. It was all too close. I had young children at home. I could imagine how I would feel if I had to bury one of my children. And I was aware that I could never really know what it is like for this couple and especially for the mother who had nurtured that small life in her own body.
The funeral director gently, almost tenderly, laid the small white coffin into the embrace of the earth.
‘Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust…’
I had no words. I was aware of some pious platitudes. ‘God looks after the innocent. Your child is now with God.’ And I knew what people might say by way of consolation, ‘You can always have another one. Just forget and move on.’ But the reality was this precious child was dead.
I had wondered before the service if I might say something about the loss of hopes and dreams in this untimely death. But this child was not just potential. It was actual. It was there. It was alive. It knew the voices and the caresses of its mother and father. It knew the sounds and the touch of family and friends. It knew love.
I had no words. So, unprofessionally, I cried. We all cried. And, I’d like to believe, God cried with us.