Thank you, Pastor Chepulis, for writing these words of comfort and for sharing them with us for our benefit:
On July 5th, 2011, I stared at the deafeningly silent ultrasound monitor. I watched the technician stoically glare at the screen, her foot nervously shaking. No heartbeat. The only sounds were the rapid thumping of my own heart and the gentle humming of the ultrasound machine. We learned our first child had died around the tenth week of pregnancy.
We went back to the hospital very early the next morning to have the child surgically removed- an extremely long and silent 85-mile drive to Grand Forks, ND. Then, the following week, my wife Amy and I, along with our families, gathered at the cemetery of St. Paul Lutheran Church in rural St. Thomas, ND, where our circuit counselor officiated a grave-side service for our little one.
David confesses, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16) God creates life; life that begins even at the earliest stage of development.
God saw our little one as she was being intricately woven together. He lovingly formed her body and imparted to her a soul. Our child is a person created by God; a person for whom Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was raised again; a person who is loved by God and her mother and father.
There is Gospel for faithful Christian parents. Not that the faith of the parents save their child, but as parents who prayed for the child and brought him or her to church, Christian parents are to be distinguished from those of other religions; and Luther certainly sets his thoughts this way.
A good friend of Luther’s, Rev. John Bugenhagen, wrote a commentary on Psalm 29 and in the appendix to his book Luther wrote about Christian women who suffer miscarriages, “…because the mother is a believing Christian it is to be hoped that her heartfelt cry and deep longing to bring her child to be baptized will be accepted by God as an effective prayer. It is true that a Christian in deepest despair does not dare to name, wish, or hope for the help (as it seems to him) which he would wholeheartedly and gladly purchase with his own life, were that possible, and in doing so thus find comfort…One should not despise a Christian person as if he were a Turk, a pagan, or a godless person. He is precious in God’s sight and his prayer is powerful and great, for he has been sanctified by Christ’s blood and anointed with the Spirit of God. Whatever he sincerely prays for, especially in the unexpressed yearning of his heart, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears. God must listen, as He did to Moses…” (Luther’s Works: AE Volume 43; Copyright 1968; Fortress Press; Published Concordia Publishing House; Saint Louis, Missouri, page 247, 248)
The Lord has heard the prayers offered on behalf of the child by her mother, father, friends and family. Prayer isn’t simply psycho-therapy to make one feel better but they ascend to God like sweet incense, and He is, indeed, moved by them. We don’t just wag our tongues in prayer, but God Himself has promised to hear them.
We have been given hope and comfort from a God who hears the petitions offered to Him by His people; hope and comfort that flow from the grace and mercy of our Lord, who came to earth, died on a cross for our sins, for even the sins of our little child. He went to the deathly grave, but it couldn’t hold Him; rather, He was spit back out. Jesus has conquered death and the grave for us. He is risen and has given the promise that all who trust in His work of salvation we will be raised to new life in Him on the last day.
What a gift our Lord has given us! Forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life graciously given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Gifts He continues to give through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the precious Word of His Gospel. All the benefits that Jesus won on the cross are given to us through these ordinary means; gifts that our child was given, even as she was developing in the womb.
Though our child, of course, wasn’t baptized, her mother dutifully brought the child to church where the Gospel was preached. The child wasn’t sprinkled with the waters of baptism, but was immersed in the Gospel each Sunday and in our home devotions. The Word is active and alive. It creates faith and trust in Christ. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ,” Paul writes in Romans 10:17. The Word of God is powerful and efficacious enough to penetrate the womb and enter the unformed ears of a child.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus healed the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37), the Lord opens his ears by speaking. Jesus said to the man, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be open” and it was so. The spoken Words of Jesus were the cure for the man’s deafness and his sin. At the command of Christ, His Word entered into the ears of a deaf man and caused, not only his ears to become open, but also imparted to him faith. The tongue that Jesus loosed immediately began to proclaim Christ. As the Word of God entered and restored a deaf man’s ears, so too has it entered the unformed ears of our child.
Our child, even in the womb, was given faith in Christ. She trusted in a Lord who redeemed her. Some might say, “How can a child know of such things?” Faith and knowledge are two very different things. A small child can have faith, but not theological knowledge and a person can have all the theological knowledge in the world but lack faith. We’re not saved by how much we know about God, but through the grace of God brought to us through Christ; that is received by the faith that He gives through His gifts of the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 19:14) “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus says. Even a child so small can have faith.
David’s child is a good example of this. After his adultery with Bathsheba, the child which resulted in this adulterous affair dies. Not only does the child die, but he dies on the 7th day, (2 Sam. 12:18) one day short of being brought into the covenant of God through circumcision. Yet David confidently says, “I shall go to him [his child], but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:23b) David looks to the resurrection where he will go to his son in heaven. He proclaims the trust in a merciful God who has received David’s child. David also makes his confession in the resurrection, that he will see his son again in the flesh. There, at the joyful reunion in Paradise, we will see our child again. What joy to know, what a wonderful promise we’ve been given.
That’s what the Lord does. He doesn’t always give us answers to all our questions, He gives us promises. He promises that though we are sinners from conception, Christ has paid for our sins and the sinful nature we inherited from Adam’s fall. He promises that on the last day, He will raise all the dead from their graves and give eternal life to all who trust in Christ. This is our hope and joy.
A hope and joy that we wish to confess. We don’t know the gender of our child but regardless of gender, we decided to name our child Anastasia. The name Anastasia comes from the Greek word ἀνάστασις (anastasis), which means “resurrection.” Whenever we think of our child’s name, we remember the promise the God has given. The remains of our child that we recently buried won’t remain there forever, but will be raised again out of the grave and we’ll see our child in the flesh. We look forward to seeing Anastasia again at the glorious return of Christ, when He will return to resurrect and bring to Himself all His faithful people. We take great comfort that death has been swallowed up in Christ’s victory. (1 Cor. 15:54b)
Hope and joy, even in the death of a child. God has heard our prayers, worked faith through His Word, and has given eternal life to one so small. We commend our child to a merciful God, who has conquered death for you, me, and our child; looking to the resurrection of all flesh and the joyful reunion in Paradise.
Rev. Mark Chepulis
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Cavalier, ND