Not having attended many funerals recently, I do not well remember a particular passage of Scripture I have seen used with a tender sense of the circumstances and to good effect. But I did last year attend a viewing for the death of a child who had been born dead, though I was unable to attend the funeral itself. I did not get to hear the funeral sermon, but I think in the preacher’s position I might have chosen Ecclesiastes 11.5 as the sermon text:
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
The wording of this verse alone leads us to think of both the stillborn baby girl herself and the child’s mother in whose womb her bones grew. Rather than speaking of a child and a womb only, this verse bids the hearer attend to the relationship between the mother and the child. This relationship, of both mind and body, of living soul and living soul, is what the mother has had cut off in death, and through her all the mourners. With a child who was born dead, there is not a full life from which to draw examples and testimonies of the Lord’s work, yet in the very relationship of the mother and her child we feel that work of the Holy Spirit. The kingly Preacher speaks of bones growing in a womb, as an incarnation of the relationship between the child and her who was with child, and invites us to feel that concretely: bones and womb. This was no mere shadow of the imagination, but someone who was intimately within the life, within the very body, of the one who lost a part of herself and delivered a child born dead.
We know not which way the wind wends, and we know not how the child grew bones and how the child died: the wind that blew was the Holy Spirit, who gave and took away. We know not his works, but we know that he lovingly knit together the bones of the child that now is dead. The Preacher tells us that we cannot make the Spirit’s way ourselves, but we can observe – even without seeing – the care with which he put together the body of the beautiful child who died even before she ever saw the light of day. It mattered not to the Spirit, as it might matter to us, how long the child would live to use her bones; the Spirit knew the child would die and gave her the gift of bones, that she might show a childlike love before that love was even born. This is the Spirit to whose love we entrust the baby and all the love she ever gave and received.
It is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun; but the days of darkness are many, and in those days we have nothing to trust but the one who gave us both light and darkness. The Preacher says,
Cast thy bread upon the waters:
for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight;
for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
Everything can change, and everything did change for the mother and her baby girl. Yet God, in the child’s life and death, showed in the darkness a patience and a love that the mother could only feel but could not see. This God judges what the eyes of man do not see, and because of his righteous judgement he knows our sorrow, knows it better than we. But this same righteous judgement, who judges what our eyes cannot see and took the child away from the sorrow of sin, calls us all to remove that sorrow from our hearts and put away evil from our flesh. He calls us to know his love in the valley dark as the womb, that we may feel his tender warmth in the darkness of the womb.