Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And their eyes were opened

Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
Luke 24: 13-35
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
May 8, 2011 - Mother's Day

Last week we laughed because of the resurrection; this week we wept.

I didn't preach a sermon this past Mother's Day. Instead we put aside the usual agenda to help one family in their grief for a baby that died 20 years ago, that was never named, that was not laid to rest.

In the place where the sermon would go, after the scripture readings, the youth message and a hymn (At the Font We Start Our Journey), I began the liturgy for baptism with the words from the gospel of Mark:
"People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.' And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them."
We prayed, blessed the water, and the parents named the child Matthew. I then poured water over their hands, baptizing Matthew in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of us all.

The congregation stood and welcomed this child into their midst as a member of the church. We prayed that this child would receive the new life given in Christ. And then we remembered this child, Matthew. We re-membered him, realizing his absence but also now his memory in this church family. The mother stood and told the story of his birth, how he would not survive long after, that she was unconscious and had never really embraced nor fully mourned her son. She wanted to name him Matthew because that was the gospel through which she came to know the Bible as an adult.

I talked about the journey to Emmaus, that it not until that time and in that place that these disciples were able to see the risen Christ, and that now this family was able to see the risen Christ in their midst for having been a part of this faith community, in this time, in this place. Then we prayed for Matthew's spirit and for our spirits too.

At the words of commendation (Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Matthew. Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a son of your own redeeming. Receive Matthew into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace) I could no longer hold it together. My voice broke on the word 'son' and I finished the prayer with tears slipping down my cheeks. It was the first memorial service I had ever done for a child, and I don't think it made any difference that there was no small casket and that he had died 20 years ago. It certainly didn't for his parents or for the congregation.

After a blessing, before we began the Prayers of the Church, I said, "That felt good. It felt good to do that." And then: "God is good." The congregation responded "All the time." And I said, "And all the time..." they replied, "God is good."

It was a good Mother's Day.

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