Read an Excerpt
Just in Time
By Cynthia L. Danals
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2007 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Birth and Newborns
Melissa, a woman in your congregation, discovered that she was pregnant for the first time. She and her husband John were so full of joy that they announced it during the worship service. The whole congregation was swept up in happiness and anticipation.
After a few weeks, Melissa and John missed a Sunday, then two. You called them. Melissa had miscarried. When you met with them, Melissa said that she would like you to preach a ser-vice in memory of the baby for whom she and John had held so much hope. John agreed that such a memorial service would be healing not only for the two of them but alsofor the congregation.
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah prayed and said,
"My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my victory.
There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed."
Hannah was a young woman with a dream. She had one request of God, that God would give her a child. When she bore a son, she dedicated him to God, naming him Samuel, for she had "asked him of the Lord." When she had weaned the boy, she took him, a skin of wine, some flour and a three-year-old bull to the priest. Before she gave away her son, she spoke a prayer of thanksgiving that began, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God."
The priest raised Samuel to be a priest. As an adult, Samuel would anoint David as king. He is one of the great priests of the Old Testament.
We never got to know John and Melissa's child. This child, a boy, was still forming in her womb when his spirit left his body. His parents hadn't yet seen his heart beating. They hadn't seen his lungs expanding and contracting. They hadn't yet counted ten fingers and toes. Yet they knew he was alive.
John and Melissa might have been able to tell what kind of character he would have. Would he have been insistent? Playful? Cheerful? Content? They couldn't really tell. They did know that they loved him already because they had asked him of God, and God had granted him to them.
From the moment of their son's conception, John and Melissa were parents. They were already providing him a safe home and good nutrition. They were full of excitement and expectation. They sensed God's favor. They had their work; they had each other; they had a home; and they had a child.
As much as they hoped for and desired this child, we would think that this pregnancy would have come to term, that the room the couple had prepared in their home would hold a strong, thriving baby boy, that the couple would bring him one day to be baptized, to be dedicated to Christian service, to the great joy of his parents and this congregation. But his life ended mysteriously, without warning. Now all of us are dealing with this painful loss.
Hannah had suffered loss. She went to pray in the temple. To the priest she explained, "I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time" (1 Samuel 1:16). Eli blessed her and sent her on her way. Soon after, she conceived.
Hannah dared to dream again. She offered Samuel to God to become a priest. God favored her with five more children. The Lord found her worthy of a high calling, mother of children.
In this congregation, there are many who have dared to dream again, who knew that God would grant their wishes for children, for career, for health, for home. We have asked these things of God, and God has favored us with generosity. Even as we experience the agony of this loss, we can still feel new hope and strength from the one who rallied the thousand as they fought the ten thousand, the one who caused water to flow from the rock, the one who gave us his son as a ransom for our sins, God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
we praise you for the hope you gave us
in the life of this child.
We praise you for the excitement
you created in these parents.
We praise you for this, your congregation,
steadfast both in joy and in sorrow.
We ask your presence
as we deal with our loss,
that we may dare to hope,
that we may continue to trust. Amen.
you give us beautiful dreams,
You are present in all of our relationships
husband and wife
parent and child
friend and neighbor.
Let us hold to each other for strength.
Let us listen for your wisdom.
Make us your children,
and fulfill your great hope in us. Amen.
Tad and Miranda are members of your community. They are related to some of your parishioners. They had been living together for two years when Miranda became pregnant. The couple hadn't anticipated having a child. The news spread among members of the community and the church. Their family members were reserved in their joy.
Because Miranda was in her late thirties, she began taking every precaution, from diet and exercise to the elimination of unhealthy habits. The couple started to consider marriage, and they approached you for counseling.
One night in her sixth month, Miranda began to experience complications. Tad rushed her to the emergency room. The couple discovered that Miranda had toxemia and dangerously high blood pressure, which might cause her to lose her life. Her doctor advised an emergency Caesarean section.
Miranda awoke the next day to find you and Tad at her bedside. Miranda had survived, but despite the best efforts of the surgeon, their baby had died. You listened as Tad stammered out the horrible truth. After they had held each other, sobbing, they asked you to provide a memorial ceremony.
The couple chose an ornate casket with pink satin lining and a ruffled white blanket. They named their daughter Ryleigh Suzanne. The funeral director himself delicately placed the tiny body on the cushion and covered her, then sealed the lid. The families of Tad and Miranda thought this an outrageous expense, but the couple felt justified.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
The story of Mary's anointing of Jesus is placed just before several chapters in which Jesus prepares his disciples for his death. When Judas objects to Mary's use of an expensive perfume, Jesus corrects him. Mary was preparing Jesus for his burial, with kind extravagance. It was important to Mary to give Jesus the same outpouring of love during his lifetime as she would during his death. After all, it had been Jesus who had brought her from a life of sin to the knowledge and the love of God.
And it was God who brought us Jesus. He came to us as a child, tiny and vulnerable. Mary and Joseph protected him. Angels heralded his birth. Shepherds attended him. Kings honored him. It would only make sense that Mary might prepare Jesus for his death in this lavish way.
Mary was one of the few who fully appreciated what Jesus would endure as the Son of Man. At this point in Jesus' story, the disciples were too worried about their loss to fully understand. Certainly, Judas didn't comprehend. He had his eye on the common purse.
More for Jesus meant less for him. Judas spoke as though he actually had concern for the poor. Jesus knew better, but he treated Judas honorably.
Ryleigh Suzanne, daughter of Tad and Miranda, had the shortest of lives here on earth. The joy with which her parents anticipated her inspired the entire town. The preparations the couple made for her, the sacrifices, and the plans were made with excitement. The angels heralded Ryleigh's birth just as they had heralded the birth of Jesus. And she arrived as he did, tiny and vulnerable. Ryleigh, much to our sorrow, was far too fragile to survive.
And so we celebrate her life even as we mourn her death, with much finery. We give her everything possible in death just as parents give their children everything possible in life. We are anointing our children every day, with new shoes, new notebooks, new sports equipment, new clothes. Ryleigh will never need any of these things, so Miranda and Tad have anointed her with lovingkindness. They have prepared her for burial just as Mary prepared Jesus.
We don't know what Ryleigh would have been like. We don't know which of her parents she would have resembled more. We don't know the sound of her voice, for even her first cry was stifled. What we do know is that she was much beloved by her family, by her community, and by her God. I can tell by the love on our faces now, that we truly are a community that God has blessed with the spiritual gift of compassion. We are strong even in our weakness, even as Mary was joyful even in her sadness as she anointed Jesus' feet. May God bless us as we care for Tad and Miranda, and as we remember their child, Ryleigh Suzanne.
you are all compassion.
You understand the loss of a child
because you lost your own son.
As we have prepared Ryleigh for burial,
so prepare our hearts for the days to come.
Bless us in our sorrow, we pray.
you loved us before we loved you.
You have nurtured us through our childhood.
You have strengthened our faith.
Give us the courage to love one another
as you have loved us.
Milo and Tatiana were expecting their first child. Even though Milo held a responsible position in his organization, he accompanied Tatiana to the many obstetrician appointments that would lead up to their child's birth. They meticulously cared for their baby girl.
In the twenty-fourth week of the pregnancy, Tatiana awoke in the middle of the night. Returning to the bedroom from the bathroom, she sensed that something was wrong. The child she was carrying was not moving.
She awakened Milo, who rushed her to the hospital. On the way, Milo called the Emergency Department to alert the medical team. Then he called the prayer chain at your church. Beside Milo in the passenger seat, Tatiana prayed for strength.
Tatiana was admitted immediately, examined, and taken to the obstetrics floor for observation. By 3:00 a.m., the grim truth was known. Their child's umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck. She had died in the womb.
Milo called you at 7:00 a.m. at home. He requested that you come see Tatiana. The couple had decided to name the child Cherise Mackenzie. They asked you to prepare a service of death and resurrection.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"
Those who witnessed the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ were in a state of confusion and agitation. They may not have known why he had to die. They may not have expected him to cry out his pain from the cross. They did not understand what he was trying to say. They were frightened by the darkening of the sky, the tearing of the temple curtain, and the reappearance of the saints who had died.
When God lost his son, he expressed his grief in dramatic ways. Rain poured from the skies. The earth shook with God's sobs. The saints rose in response. The righteous recognized Jesus' true identity, and their sorrow was profound.
We find ourselves in a similar situation. We are in a state of confusion and agitation. We expected Cherise Mackenzie to thrive. We expected her to emerge strong and healthy. We prayed for this couple as they sped through the night to the hospital.
Sadly, like those who witnessed Jesus' crucifixion, the situation was untenable. Like God, we watched as the unimaginable happened. Then the earth shook with our sobs. Tears ran down our faces and dropped on the pages of our Bibles. The medical team, the prayer chain, Milo and Tatiana—all of us were miserable in our powerlessness.
God has mercy on us. God knows what it is like to lose a child. Jesus, his arms outstretched on the cross, called out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Any parents would move heaven and earth to save their child from illness or injury or death. God could not save Jesus. God watched his only son die in excruciating pain.
As we sit in our helplessness, God's love surrounds us. God has traveled the road to the cross. God has suffered the death of his only son. God has given his son so that we may be saved. God understands our anger, our disbelief, our sorrow.
When Jesus died on the cross, he entered eternal life. He showed us the way. He has greeted this baby girl, taken her in his arms, and introduced her to a heaven full of comfort, peace, and nourishment. He has marveled at her beauty. He has turned to the angels, and he has introduced her as Cherise Mackenzie, daughter of Milo and Tatiana. God smiled, knowing how much Jesus loves children, and joined him and the angels in adoring this child.
Cherise Mackenzie has received her reward. She is in heaven's care. She will never have to be hungry, thirsty, or in need. She will never get a bad grade on a spelling test. She will never endure illness. She will be in empathy with Tatiana and Milo, and devote herself to prayer on their behalf, responding to their mourning by asking God's care of them.
One day Milo and Tatiana will experience new warmth. We will all know a welcome peace in time. Then Cherise Mackenzie will rejoice with us, that God has heard our prayers and that we have heard God's promise, expressed through his son Jesus Christ, that he will never leave us or forsake us. Until then, let us hold on to each other and live in the hope of the resurrection.
we are grateful for the life of your son Jesus Christ
and the hope of resurrection.
We thank you for Milo and Tatiana,
for their loving care of Cherise Mackenzie.
We thank you for this baby girl,
now safe in your care,
who is even now teaching us how to love
and overflowing your heart with prayers for us.
Excerpted from Funeral Services by Cynthia L. Danals. Copyright © 2007 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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