When my beloved friend Barbara died this past year, her husband and daughter gave me some of Barbara’s clothing and purses. I carry one of those purses (it has alternated which) whenever I leave the neighborhood. I don’t always think about the bag being hers until I reach into certain pockets where I find a cough drop or lens cleaner. In those moments I stop and reflect, missing Barbara and being thankful for the tangible reminders of her. Several weeks after Barbara’s death, Allyn and I were talking about those forms of comfort as sacramental.
I have always been a sacramental person, desiring ways to make tangible that which exists beyond the senses. I have written in this blog about my love for baptism and communion. My natural response to nearly anything that happens in my life is for some sort of litany and liturgy to mark it. Like those who carried the faith so long ago, I wish to set up stone markers to see and feel important events.
It is my inclination now as I grieve Avelyn. I write because the written word is something I can see. The tapping of the keys is something I feel. The piece of Avelyn’s blanket that still waits to wrap her tiny body rests on my bedside table. The Willow Tree figurine is on a shelf beside a small nest with two birds and the ultrasound pictures from my appointment just over a week ago. I need things to see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. I am still anticipating a service for Avelyn, to build that stone monument in words, song, and remembrance.
Recently, Rachel Held Evans posted a blog of the “11 Things I Wish More Pastors Would Say.” Friends linked to it, but I didn’t actually read it until Thursday after receiving the call from the nurse. I was sorting through posts on The Old Reader and finally read her words. Number 9 struck me as particularly meaningful, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.” I have spoken those words—or similar ones—on many occasions as I’ve served the bread and cup. I have had them spoken over me as I share in the Feast. At times I’ve struggled with what words to say, as I know various traditions disagree as to whether it is proper to suggest that Christ’s body was broken.
On Thursday—and still today—I need that word. Whether or not Jesus was broken in a literal sense, I believe he felt it. He felt the betrayal. He felt the loss of relationship. His words on the cross indicate he even felt abandoned by God. He felt broken—perhaps in body as well as spirit and mind. And If Jesus was broken, then he can relate to those of us who feel and are broken in this currently broken world.
My friend Robert sent me an email this week. When he heard about the results of my blood test and my pain at the news, he was reading Phillip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts?, specifically the chapter on the “Groaning Planet.” Robert said to me, “. . . and all I can say is that, in your situation, I hear the planet groaning loudly, that this is not the way life should be, that suffering like this should NOT be the case, that a couple of amino-acids wrong in a DNA chain should NOT be enough to kill a baby in utero . . . this is not the way God intended things, at all . . . it is a groaning planet, a broken world, and we hunger and yearn for it to be fixed.”
I believe that God can better understand the groaning, because as Jesus was broken, God was groaning, too. And when you have felt the groan come out of the depths of yourself, you can’t bear the thought that anyone else must experience it. A God who has groaned is a God who will stop at nothing to restore the world, to fix the brokenness. I believe that is the message of the Scriptures.
Those words also give us the freedom to grieve now—to groan and ache and cry. After all, if we are to join God in the plan to restore the world, we much recognize the brokenness. We must feel the pain. We must join in the groans of a world that is not just, that has enormous suffering.
Rachel is right—pastors need to say those words. We all need to hear them—and perhaps we all need to say them. In our celebration of communion is the reminder that our God knows what it is to be broken and is at work restoring all things. In that ritual is the hope that God is fixing the broken things. In that sacrament is the promise that Avelyn and Barbara are being restored, that I am being restored, that all of this horrendous groaning is being heard and will one day end.
This is Christ’s body, broken for you.
Author’s note: This is the eighteenth post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.