Service of Memorial and Lament

In January 2018, my husband and I planned a Service of Memorial and Lament for our church. We invited all those who have experienced the loss of children in utero through a miscarriage or a regretted abortion, the loss of children through stillbirth, or the long ache of infertility (and anyone else who wanted to come to worship with us and walk alongside these in grief). 

I mentioned this service on Twitter and Facebook, and I have never had so many requests for resources, the liturgy we used, or a sermon recording, so I decided to post this here for easy access for the many of you who have asked us for help or resources in making this kind of service. Our final service also included music (but that's not listed below).

 Unfortunately, we did not record my sermon in the service (it was an oversight--this is what happens when the priests are doing set up). Below are my general notes, but I went substantially off script and 'riffed' in my actual sermon, so that part won't be captured here. (I'm sad I didn't record it--Sorry!) 

Also, this liturgy is drawn from the ACNA's Eucharistic Liturgy and an alternative service book called Common Worship from the Church of England.  My husband Jonathan assembled this order of worship. 



Service of Memorial and Lament

Word of Welcome and Introduction

Opening Sentences

Celebrant:

For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him (Psa. 22:24)

I will comfort you, says the Lord, as a mother comforts her child and you shall be comforted. (Isaiah 66:13a)

Celebrant:       The Lord be with you.

People:            And with your spirit.

Celebrant:       Let us pray.

Celebrant:

God of all mercies, you make nothing in vain and love all that you have made.

Teach us to lament what we have lost and call upon your name, comfort us in our grief, renew our hopes for the future, and console us by the knowledge of your unfailing love, for only you have the words of life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Silence follows.

The Lessons

The people stand. 

Celebrant: We will pray Psalm 88 responsively by half verse.

Psalm 88

Silence.

Celebrant: The Holy Gospel of our Lord according to John.

People: Glory to you, Lord Christ.

John 11:17-27

After the reading,

Celebrant: The Holy Gospel of our Lord.

People: Thanks be to God.

Homily

Silence follows.

Prayers

The Lord Jesus is the lover of his people and our only sure hope. Let us ask him to deepen our faith and sustain us in this dark hour. Jesus, you became a little child for our sake, sharing our human life, our frailties, and our vulnerabilities. To you we pray:

All: Bless us and keep us, O Lord.

You welcomed children, promising them your kingdom. We commend to you the children we have lost and ask that they would grow to full stature and be eternally joyful with you in the great day of your Resurrection. To you we pray:

All: Bless us and keep us, O Lord.

You comforted those who mourned the loss of children and friends. Comfort us who live with great sorrows and restore our hopes for the future. To you we pray:

All: Bless and keep us, O Lord.

O God, with your gospel you bring good news to the barren. Comfort those who cry out to you in the midst of infertility, and give us assurance that with you nothing is wasted or will remain incomplete, and uphold them with your love. To you we pray:

All: Bless and keep us, O Lord.

You promised to raise up those who believe in you, just as you were raised up in glory by the Father. May we and the children that have gone before us through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and untimely death also rise with you at the last day. Let us hold before the throne of grace those children by name, whom we have committed to the care of God. And let us remember now those who are dear to us who need healing in body, mind, and spirit.

To you we pray:

All: Bless and keep us, O Lord.

Loving Father, your servant Mary, the mother of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, stood by the cross while her Son was dying. May that same Jesus, victorious over death, risen and ascended, give comfort to grieving parents, and strengthen their faith you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Silence follows.

The Confession

Celebrant: We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.

All:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. We have not loved you with our whole hearts. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.

The Absolution

Celebrant:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Peace

Celebrant:       The peace of the Lord be always with you.

People:            And with your spirit.

The Holy Eucharist

The Great Thanksgiving

The People Stand. The Celebrant faces them and says

The Lord be with you.

People:            And with your spirit.

Celebrant:       Lift up your hearts.

People:            We lift them to the Lord.

Celebrant:       Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People:            It is just and right so to do.

The Celebrant continues

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord: For he is your living Word from before time and for all ages; by him you created all things, and by him you make all things new. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

The Sanctus

Celebrant and People:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

The Prayer of Consecration

The People stand or kneel. The Celebrant continues

Lord God our Father: When we had sinned against you and become subject to evil and death, you sent your only Son into the world for our salvation; by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary he became flesh and dwelt among us. On the cross he offered himself once for all as our Redeemer, that by his suffering and death we might be saved. By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet. After he ascended to your right hand in glory, you sent your Holy Spirit, that we might become your holy people.

On the night that he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it,* and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is my Body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper, Jesus took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink this, all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you, and for many, for the forgiveness of sins: Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”

Now sanctify these gifts that they may become for us the Body and Blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. Sanctify us also, that we may be filled with your Holy Spirit and manifest your presence and power in the world. Therefore, heavenly Father, as we joyfully proclaim our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice. Grant that we who partake of this Holy Communion may receive the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. At the last day bring us with all your saints into the fullness of your heavenly kingdom, where we shall see our Lord face to face.

By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Celebrant then says

And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to pray:

All:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, 8 Holy Communion, Ancient Text as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Fraction

Celebrant:       Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, once for all upon the cross.

People:            Therefore let us keep the feast.

The Ministration of Communion

The congregation is invited to come forward to receive the Eucharist and receive anointing with oil and healing prayer.

Prayer after Communion

All:

The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing

Dismissal

Officiant:         Let us go in peace.

People:            Thanks be to God.

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My Homily (in part): 

Mary Allerton, a poet and a puritan who sailed to America on the Mayflower, wrote a poem after she birthed a stillborn child with these lines:
“There is no time to grieve now, there is no time.

There is only time for the labor in the cold.”

Nearly 400 years later, I sat with a woman speaking  about her own sorrow, and she said (something like), “I am grieving but I don’t have time for grief. There is so much  work to do.” The similarity struck me. Here are two women in completely different circumstances, four centuries apart, and, without knowing it, they spoke nearly the exact same words. They shared the same ache.

When we face deep grief in our culture, there can be a deep pressure to move on, to look at the bright side, to be productive, to get over it.

And I want to just acknowledge as a woman that we carry this grief in our very body. That our very cells seem to remember children we’ve lost or those we have longed for and could not have. We cannot move on without our very bodies reminding us and carrying us back to grief, sometimes when we least expect it.

The way women can bring forth life is amazing, it’s miraculous, but the loss of that life is a pain that is deep and real and often unspoken.

And especially in the face of such grief, there is pressure in our culture to move on quickly—you can hear trite phrases about God needing another angel, or that if you have more faith maybe you could have children, or that ‘there’s always next time.’

But we are gathering together now to say: There is time to grieve. There is time.

And when you  grieve, you do not grieve alone. We grieve together as a church.

This year, I lost two children to miscarriage, one was a late miscarriage and our baby’s ashes are interred here in this sanctuary. And I often wonder, daily, weekly, who this child would have been, we would have had a son, and I miss him.  And I weep.

Soon after I began the process of ordination, a close friend came to me and before she was really walking with God in relationship with Christ, she had had two abortions and she regretted it everyday. And she began to cry as she told me how she kept the ages of her children in her head, and when she met kids that age, she’d think about the children she would have had. And she wept.

This year, we have friends who lost a child to stillbirth. And the pain and disappointment and horrible emptiness they are facing is relentless. And they weep.

And I do not know this pain fully but we have walked closely with friends who are grieving infertility and asking ‘Why God? Why have you—the God who opens so many wombs in scripture—not opened mine?’ And my friends have wept.

There are other losses that may have drawn you here tonight, losses I don’t know or cannot name. But we are grieving with you.

But it is not only your church that grieves with you. God, the lover of our souls, grieves with you, with us. 

Our God is the God who sees us.

Psalm 139 tells us that God saw us—and our lost children, for those who’ve lost children—when we were not even yet formed (You saw my unformed substance)

And we find Hagar, an Egyptian slave, weeping in Genesis 16, weeping in grief, and God speaks to her and she says to him, “You are the God who sees me.”

Isn’t that what we want? To know that God sees us in our pain.

In Psalm 88, our Psalm tonight, we hear the deep lament, the deep sense of rejection that the Psalmist feels as he asks, why do you reject me? Why do you hide your face? Why Lord, do you not see me?

And then in this remarkable story of Jesus. When Jesus declares that He is the Resurrection and the Life…He doesn’t just say that he gives resurrection and life but that He himself is the Resurrection and the life.

And this goes just past our gospel reading for today but Mary, Martha’s sister, runs to Jesus and she weeps with him. And scripture tells us that “Jesus saw her weeping.” He saw her weeping. And those with her. And he didn’t tell her to cheer up, look at the bright side, get over it, or get back to work. But the scriptures say that he was “Deeply-- in his depths-- moved and troubled.” This is the God who sees us. And this is the God who sees you, in your grief.

And then they tell the Lord, “Come and see” where Lazarus lay. And scripture tells us that Jesus, the eternal son of God, wept.

Why did he weep? He had just called himself the resurrection and life.

This is the resurrection and life weeping at the site of death and the grave.

He must have known what he was about to do, he must have known that  he was about to raise his friend from the dead. He wasn’t weeping because his friend was lost. Richard Lints, a professor of mine in seminary, said that in this moment Jesus looked into death, he looked and saw—peered into the depths-- the brutal reality of death, and pain, and grief that humans face. And he hated it.

If the very Resurrection and Life can we weep, we can weep. And we can know—without a doubt—that he weeps with us.

Why does God allow loss of children? Why does he allow disappointment? And infertility? And death? And broken dreams? And these sad, sad things that happen to us?

I do not know.

But I know that God has wept. And I know that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

The invitation tonight is to look into your losses and see them, just as Jesus did. See the horror of death. And you can hate it. Jesus did. I hate it.

But we weep as those with hope. Because we know the Resurrection and the Life.

Women in this room, we bear grief in  our very bodies, and so did Jesus, on the cross, he took all human sin, all human loss, on his very body. But he bore the Resurrection in His very body. And because of that, we will too. We will too. And our children will too.

Wherever you are tonight-- sad, angry, confused, hopeful, not feeling much at all-- God sees you, God knows you, God welcomes you. And you can invite God into wherever you are. He sees the depths of you. And in that deep place of grief and loss, He is the Resurrection and the Life.