I’ve heard of a few friends recently experiencing loss. Two weeks ago I led a workshop on miscarriage/pregnancy loss at the All You Need is Love Women’s Theology Conference. Here is the service I designed for the second half of our time together:
We gather here this afternoon to name the pain and grief of pregnancy loss and infertility and to honor the children who are missing from our family photos. This sort of loss is not often talked about on Sunday mornings. Very few churches and denominations have created liturgies to mark this sort of loss. Instead our pain is often relegated to the silence. It can be hard to know where to find God in the hurt. So today we gather, acknowledging that the Sacred is not separate from our experiences, not removed from our loss, but that God meets us even here. Will you join me in the call to worship?
Call to Worship
One: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
All: God, like Rachel we ache for our missing children. Condolences feel empty in the enormity of our loss.
One: Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.
All: God, you heard the cries of Hannah as she grieved her infertility. Remember us, too, as we long for the children we have hoped for and imagined.
One: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
All: God, you lovingly created us. And while we were dreaming of our babies, you were dreaming with us as your love formed them. Hold us as we grieve.
Song: Healer of Our Every Ill (Marty Haugen)
Scripture: Lamentations 3:12-24
I have never been a person in exile. I’ve never had to flee my homeland or be subject to foreign occupation. But I do know what it is to lament. I know what it is to both literally and emotionally have death inside me. I know what it feels like to have the weight of the world strike me like an arrow. And I know many of you know those feelings, too. We have shared stories this morning—shared places of heartache and moments of hope.
The most persistent thing I felt after my miscarriages was broken. In pregnancy I had started to look at my body differently—it was amazing. This body was shifting and moving and reconfiguring to grow a person. While I hated the nausea, the reality of the amazing things my body was doing was incredible. And then I went to my midwife for my second prenatal appointment, where she offered me an ultrasound and I learned that the incredible workings of my body were not enough. My daughter had no heartbeat. I felt like I had failed in one of the key areas of motherhood—I failed to keep my daughter alive. In a very real way, my own body had been working against my desires. How does one person even begin to process that sort of loss? The only word I could hold and wrap myself around was “broken.”
And that is exactly where I think our lamenter is. When you know you are the people of God and tell stories about how God set you free and led you to the promised land, what does it mean when others run you out of that land? Everything they had trusted failed. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see a people trying to scratch out their identities. Who are we now that this has happened? Who are we if God has turned God’s back? Who are we in occupation? Who are we now that everything is broken?
The lamenter clearly blames God. He suggests this is all the result of God’s wrath. And yet, his own words contradict this notion. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In the midst of complete despair, it is the steadfast love of God that gives hope.
And this phrase “steadfast love” is significant. It is our closest English rendition of the Hebrew word “hesed.” But our translation almost makes it sound too passive. You can love someone steadfastly from afar. Hesed, on the other hand is active. One definition states “hesed is the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love” of God. It is a love that chases us when we are most unworthy. It is the reason that the Psalmist writes of not being able to flee from God in Psalm 139—because this love always pursues us, always anticipates us . . . it goes with us even to the pit.
In her theological reflections on miscarriage, Serene Jones suggests that when Jesus was killed, his death was taken into the Trinity in the same way a miscarrying woman carries death inside her. I love this image. The idea that even when no one else knows our pain, God has been there. God, the Creator and Giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb. God’s love goes to the pit with us.
God knows what it is to be broken. In our communion liturgy we speak the words—“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” God understands the groaning. 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 must 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. And let’s be honest, the loss of a child is enormous.
We may be broken. But God is lovingly redeeming us, AND is lovingly redeeming our missing children. We are broken now, but we can have hope that one day we will be made whole.
We will be sharing communion today as a sacrament. As Mennonites we often shy away from talking about sacraments. Instead we talk of ordinances. But there are times when I think we need tangible reminders of the way that God is with us—and today I hope this celebration of Table is one of them. (Words of Instruction/Institution)
Song: O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (George Matheson/Albert Peace)
Throughout Scripture, people mark encounters with God by building altars. As a tangible reminder that God is surrounding us and our children, I invite you to write each of your children’s names on two stones. Place one in the vase to build our altar together. Take the other with you.
Song/Benediction: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Isaac Watts)