The very first funeral that I took part in as a pastor was for an infant. The child had died in the womb the day before her due date. I walked with the family through that in the best way that I could; though it is one of those experiences for which no book or seminary class can adequately prepare you. As a pastor, you end up dealing with death a lot. But when I saw the funeral director pick up and carry that tiny casket by himself, it brought tears unlike most funerals would.
It was an experience that I hoped to never have again.
Over the past two weeks, however, I had to walk through it with another family. This time not only the funeral and the loss, but standing in the room to pray with the family as the child took her last breaths in her parents’ arms. Again, it is something that I never want to experience a second time, but life in a fallen world does not always afford us the pleasantries we desire.
Among my fellow pastors, there are some I know who have walked this road before, and there are others, some who have even pastored for years, who have never had to face the darkness inherent in a child’s death. I pray that if you are a pastor, then you won’t have to have this experience. And I am thankful that we live in a time and place where child mortality is relatively low. But, like I said, life isn’t always so pleasant.
So, I want to share as a resource for you the sermon that I preached last week at this child’s funeral. It was only about a 5 or 6 minute sermon. I tend to keep funeral sermons short as is, more so in this instance–when faced with deep grief, I believe our task is not to wax eloquent but help people see the hope of Jesus in as simple and sweet a way as possible. Feel free to use it in whatever way that it might help in your ministry. The poem at the end was taken from W.A. Criswell’s “Guidebook for Pastors,” with slight modification to be more appropriate to the situation. I’ve also changed the name of the child in the sermon to the generic use “Jane” out of privacy for the family.
Funeral for Jane Doe
We come together at a moment like this, and it is not an easy moment. When someone in their old age passes away, yes we are saddened, but we tend to expect it. We assume that is a part of life: We are born, we grow up, we grow old, and then we pass on.
But when someone young dies, someone who has only had a few short days of breath in this world, it’s a painful reminder of truths we find in Scripture: Death is an enemy and its sting hurts.
In these moments we are confronted with the question Why? But God rarely gives us specific answers this side of eternity, other than: The world we live in is broken—marred by Satan’s influence and human sin, our rebellion against God. This is why Jesus said in John 10:10, “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” That thief is Satan and our sin and death. Such always seek to rob joy and life from us.
Jesus continued, though, speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, our Savior-King: “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
That is our hope for this life and eternity to come; but where is the hope of life in the face of this loss?
The Bible reminds us that God is good, just, fair, loving, and merciful. The Bible reminds us that God has a special place in his heart for children, as he cares for those who are vulnerable and helpless. Jesus even rebuked the adults who thought being around children was too undignified for him by saying, “Don’t hinder the children from coming to me.”
So, when Jane took her last breath in this life, she found herself in eternal life and eternal joy in the arms of Jesus because he clings to her and holds her safe.
But for those of us in this room who are older, we have to make that choice. We have to decide whether or not we will cling to Jesus, and I want to urge you to decide to do just that.
Psalm 23 tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd” and to that Great Shepherd, King David wrote, “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me…”
God doesn’t promise to always answer our questions. He doesn’t promise to keep us from pain, at least in this life. But he does promise that even when we have to walk through the darkest valleys, the valleys of death’s shadow, he will be there to guide us and even to carry us.
You are going to sorrow. The sting of this death will leave a void that you will carry for the years to come. In your sorrow, cling to Jesus—the prophet Isaiah says, “He himself bore our sickness, and he has carried our pains.” The One who went to the cross to sorrow and suffer condemnation for our sin that we might find forgiveness and eternal life is big enough to carry you and your deepest sadness.
You are going to be angry. You will have days where you are mad at life, mad at death, mad at the world, and perhaps even mad at God. In your anger, cling to Jesus. The One who drank down every ounce of God’s wrath four our rebellion that we could experience God’s pleasure is big enough to carry you and your fiercest anger.
And the day will come where you will dare to smile again and you will dare to laugh. In those moments you might be tempted to feel guilt at that sense of happiness when you’ve faced so great a loss. So, in your happiness, cling to Jesus. The One who rose from the dead and promises in eternity to right every wrong, wipe away all our tears, and give us eternal joys that we can’t even begin to imagine is big enough to carry you and your happiness and free you from the guilt that seeks to rob you.
In all things and in all the time ahead, cling to Jesus. And then looking forward from this moment, though you only had her for a few brief days, may God use every memory of Jane to help fuel your comfort and joy, even in the midst of tears, in the days, weeks, and years to come.
I wish to conclude this morning with the following Poem, Author Unknown:
The golden gates were open / And heavenly angels smiled
And with their tuneful harpstrings / Welcomed the little child
They shouted, “High and holy / A child has entered in
And safe from all temptation / A soul is kept from sin”
They led her through the golden streets / On to the King of kings
And a glory fell upon her / From the rustlings of their wings
The Savior smiled upon her / As none on earth had smiled
And heaven’s great glory shown / Around this little child