In 30 years of ministry, I’ve officiated at funerals for people of all ages, including infants who were pre-term and full-term.
People often ask me how one does a funeral for someone you did not or could not know, including infants.
Although the occasion is one of deep sadness, the direction of the funeral and message is really quite simple.
You preach Christ crucified and risen for all humanity, including that child.
You focus less on the child and more on what God has done for every person through Jesus Christ.
In fact, it’s easier to preach Christ at the funeral of an infant than an adult because the life story and “achievements” of the adult are often allowed to eclipse the achievements of Christ.
Consider the account in Luke’s Gospel when parents brought their babies to Jesus that he might touch or bless them. This blessing was the act of God conferring grace upon the infants.
The disciples rebuked the parents, but Jesus rebuked the disciples saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Then came the kicker.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
One thing all should agree on is this: babies can do nothing but receive.
Babies cannot earn, they cannot achieve, they cannot merit or actively acquire anything, nor are they in a position to decide.
They must be given everything by the decision of another.
And that is Christ’s point.
Jesus cites infants, not adults, as illustrations of discipleship.
Infants, pre-term and full-term, are the best example of what a disciple is, because they can do nothing but receive.
It may surprise you, but the same is true for adults.
This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and it is why he also said, “If God so clothes the grass of the field … will he not much more clothe you … ?”
Food, clothing and all that we need to support body and life are never earned by us but are solely the gifts of God.
As the Scripture says, “A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from above.”
It’s the same with the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.
Like infants, we are all passive recipients of what God alone gives through Jesus Christ.
When an infant dies, pre-term or full-term, it’s not just the passing of a life, but the passing of the parents’ fondest hopes and dreams.
That death is the consequence of sin which affects us all.
The psalmist wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
And again, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Comfort for grieving parents can never be found in the presumed innocence of the child.
Such innocence does not exist, but something far better does: God’s love for the world revealed in the death of his unique son.
The Apostle John wrote, “He (Christ) is the satisfaction for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”
That includes infants.
I may not know how the infant felt about God, but I absolutely know how God feels about the infant — and the cross proves it.
I cannot look into the child’s heart or anyone’s heart to know if faith is there, but I can look into the heart of God at the cross. There, I see God’s love for all, including for the child.
To the grieving parent I say, “Turn your eyes away from everything but the cross.”
There alone is true comfort in the midst of grief.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.