We are made for life. Everything in our humanity cries out against death. Strangely, and shockingly, we’ve come to accept the ‘fact’ of death (and even, in some cases, to benefit from it), especially when it concerns those who have ‘had a good innings’. But one of the toughest gigs is to bury a child. Only one who has lost a child can know the journey from enrapture at the news that ‘we’re pregnant’, to the birth of dreams and laughter, to losing the grip on hope, and … well, to the great emptiness.
Many of those who ‘lose’ a child – including a child in utero – feel that they want to remember rightly, to honour life, and to thank God for the life given – and taken – from them. For some, this means intentional time together with God, to give thanks, to listen, to rage, to see if God might listen, to bury the ‘body’, to protest.
About a year ago, it fell to me to conduct a ‘private’ funeral service for a child which had died in utero (at 11 weeks). Disappointingly, among all the many resources that I had at hand for preparing a funeral liturgy, I had absolutely nothing for funerals in the case of a miscarriage. I was shocked, and deeply bothered, that while I could find prepared liturgies for children who had died in infancy, or as stillborns, I looked in vain for words that might gather up the feelings surrounding the 10-20% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage. So in the end, I scrambled together my own.
The liturgy I pulled together in haste remains a work-in-progress, but rather than wait I wanted to make it available for others for whom it might be a helpful resource. Note that the couple in question had ‘named’ their child with an in utero ‘name’. It was this ‘name’ that was used in the service.
A Liturgy for a Miscarried Child
We are here together to worship God, to thank God for God’s love, and to remember [name] short life with us on earth; to share our grief and to commend [name] to God’s eternal care. We meet in the hope that while death is the great enemy, death is not the end, but the new beginning, and so may be faced without fear, bitterness, or guilt, but in faith, hope, and love.
‘God bent his bow and aimed it squarely at me. He shot his arrows deep into my heart … He has filled me with bitterness. He has given me a cup of deep sorrow to drink. He has made me grind my teeth on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust.Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The LORD is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him’. (Lamentations 3.12–25)
‘Where shall I go to escape your spirit? Where shall I flee from your presence? If I scale the heavens you are there, if I lie flat in Sheol, there you are. If I speed away on the wings of the dawn, if I dwell beyond the ocean, even there your hand will be guiding me, your right hand holding me fast. I will say, ‘Let the darkness cover me, and the night wrap itself around me,’ even darkness to you is not dark, and night is as clear as the day. You created my inmost self, knit me together in my mother’s womb. For so many marvels I thank you; a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders. You knew me through and through, my being held no secrets from you, when I was being formed in secret, textured in the depths of the earth. Your eyes could see my embryo. In your book all my days were inscribed, every one that was fixed is there’. (Psalm 139.7–16)
Merciful Father, before you formed us in the womb you knew us as a mother. You make nothing in vain and you love all that you have made. You are the God of unfailing compassion, and you too know what it is like to lose a child. In your creative love and tenderness you gave us [name], so full of hope for the future. You are the source of all our lives, the strength of all our days. You did not make us for darkness and death but to see you face to face and to enjoy abundant life. We praise you for with you nothing is wasted or incomplete, and all things are upheld and made whole with your love. Help us to comfort one another with the comfort we receive from you through your two hands – Word and Spirit.
We pray for [name]. We ask that any trauma that [name] may have felt in those last days, hours, or moments, may be met with your healing. We pray that [name] may continue to grow physically and to mature emotionally, unfrightened and secure in your love, and thrilled about knowing you as the Ground of their being. We thank you for the promise that [name] is in your care where there is no more dying, or tears or pain. And we thank you for giving us every reason to hope that one day we might meet [name] face to face, and in that long-awaited embrace, know afresh that you are the promise-keeping Lord of life.
‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’. (Mark 10.14)
‘I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Romans 8.38–39)
We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Prayer of Committal
Gracious God, we commit [name] into your ever-caring and gentle love; [name] brought the promise of joy to our lives, and to those closest to us, for such a short time; enfold [name] now in your mighty and eternal life of love, in the name of the risen One who was born and died and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever.
Blessing for [name]
[name], ‘God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper’. (Numbers 6.24–26)
‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” … And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children’. (Revelation 21.1–7)