On the Death of a Child

It is a connection I never imagined or wanted. Nine days after the death of my son I officiated and preached at the wedding of a young couple. Nine days before the third anniversary of my son’s death I officiated and preached the following sermon at the funeral of that young couple’s baby. Born prematurely, he lived only about three weeks.

What does one say on the death of a child? What are the parents and congregation able to hear? I thought about the things said to my wife and me; some helpful, others not so helpful. I thought about what the parents wanted to hear and what I wanted and still need to hear. It was one of those moments when there is both nothing and everything to say. I know that I preached the following words as much to myself as to others. Preachers do that sometimes, maybe more often than we care to admit.

Today marks the third anniversary of our son’s death. There is both nothing and everything to say.

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I want to name some realities about this day and the circumstances in which we gather:

  • The tragedy, unfairness, and injustice that a child has died;
  • Tears that seem endless;
  • Pain that feels unbearable;
  • Questions that have no answers;
  • Anger at what is and what will not be;
  • A sense of powerlessness;
  • Letting go when what we really want is to hold on;
  • Having been robbed of a life, time, and the hopes and dreams of all that might have been;
  • Physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

I am not telling you anything you do not already know and feel. Rather, I am naming the circumstances from which new life for Cody and for you will arise. I am naming the very places of your life that God is present and working to make all things new. While the things I listed are real, they are not the final or ultimate reality. Life will be returned and you and Cody will live again. That’s the promise of Christ.

The realities we experience today were just as real and just as present for the two women who went before King Solomon. It is a strange and difficult story to hear on this day. It strikes close to home and maybe that’s why we need to hear it. Most often we hear this story as focusing on Solomon’s wisdom but hidden within this story is a miracle. It is the miracle of compassion and love. Recall what the story says. “Because compassion for her son burned within her” the woman entrusted her son to another. She let him go so that he might live. That’s what you did a few days ago in the hospital. It’s what we have gathered here to do today. We are entrusting Cody to a new life.

This woman’s compassion and love her son, your compassion and love for Cody – those are not simply choices, they are divine qualities. They reveal the ongoing and active presence of God with us and in us. We do not stand alone in these circumstances. God has always been present. He was never more present than at Cody’s death. God neither causes nor intends death. He is the God of life, love, and compassion. When your first tears fell so did God’s. When your heart broke so did God’s.

Compassion and love are what brought Cody into this world and they are what allowed you to let him go. That is the miracle in the midst of today’s circumstances. That, Don and Elizabeth, is the miracle that has and will continue to let you to entrust Cody to God. And, it is the same miracle by which you will forever be his mom and dad.

God’s compassion and love for us are why death never has the final word. It is why God is making all things new. Life is changed, not ended. As real as the circumstances are today, the greater reality is the love of God, the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the healing of our lives. That is the greater reality into which we entrust Cody and ourselves.

When tears fall, we entrust. When questions and doubts arise, we entrust. When circumstances overwhelm, we entrust. Over and over we entrust ourselves and those we love to God and the new life he is creating. We do not do this alone. We do it together with and supported by family, friends, the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, of whom Cody is now one.

Every time we entrust ourselves to this new life, this greater reality, we celebrate Easter resurrection. Today is Easter Sunday for Cody, for you, and for me. That is why on this day, in the midst of these circumstances, we can sing to Jesus, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

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Note: This sermon was based on 1 Kings 3:16-28. It is an unusual choice for a funeral and not one offered by the Book of Common Prayer. It holds, however, special meaning for the parents and was specifically requested.

12 thoughts on “On the Death of a Child

  1. Our hearts still hurt for you both. “I held him close for only a short time, but after he was gone, I’d see his smile on the face of a perfect stranger & I knew he would be there with me all the rest of my days.” (StoryPeople)

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    • My love and condolences. I don’t know him at all in the Nitro but I do know Cody spirit of God odd. And so like my daughter Lorraine he is resting in the arms of Abraham. Love

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  2. Unimaginable pain and, I pray and believe, glimpses of glory that come out of “nowhere,” always and when you least expect it. Love, grace, peace to you, Cyndi and these grieving parents.

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  3. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to you and Cyndy and Don and Elizabeth. Thank you for your beautiful words of comfort as it speaks to all of us at those times of loss when we ask “why”.

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  4. Thank you, Mike. What a wonderful reflection on terrible pain and the healing power of our Lord (not to mention his sometimes sneaky ways of taking care of us when we can’t take care of ourselves). I will keep this at hand for further contemplation. JBD+

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  5. Mike, I grieved again, as I am sure you and Cyndy did, at the reminder of your experience of loss. And yes, thank you for the reminder of Divine Reality’s Presence in the totality of our experience. I was just with my brother (15 months younger than I), who has been suicidal for years and years. As his health, which is really bad, declines, he has been thinking more and more about taking his own life through some “hemlock society”-type method. I realized 1) how powerless I am to keep him alive; 2) how much I love him and would like to change his outlook and his health; and 3) how the Holy One is a part of him and is present with him. Your thoughts and shared experience are very helpful. Thank you, again.

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  6. Such beautiful, precious and comforting words. You and Cyndy are in my thoughts and prayers. My love to both of you always and especially at this time of the year.

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