The death of our Lord's little lambs...

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This begins a new category of posts I've planned for years, but put off. If you visit an old cemetery, you'll see dotted across the landscape tiny gravestones with little lambs carved on the top. Jesus commanded Peter, "Tend my lambs" (John 21:15), and His command includes these little ones. Isaiah prophesied about our Lord:

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.  - Isaiah 40:11

Upon the death of their little one, Christian parents across the centuries have clung to the promise that their Lord will gather His lambs.

Move closer to these gravestones to read the inscriptions and you'll find a couple things. First, the stones often mark the grave of more than one child...

Returning to Glenwood Memorial Gardens outside Philadelphia some years ago, I was surprised to see only one marker. Since then I have learned it's not unusual for parents to bury multiple children in the same grave just as my parents did with their sons.

Second, the inscriptions on these graves frequently give the same date of birth and date of death—say, for instance, May 5, 2015 - May 5, 2015. This indicates the child died at birth. On the other hand, the child may have been a miscarriage or stillborn. And if so, how long had the little lamb lived before he died? He may have been 90 or 180 days old, or he may have lived the full term of pregnancy, 273 days, and died on his birthday. No matter the number of days, Scripture tells us his life was complete:

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.  - Psalms 139:13-16

Even prior to the implantation of the wee one on the wall of his mother's uterus, from the very moment of conception this little lamb bears the image and likeness of God and we love him. Sure, while in the womb, it's the rare father who loves his unborn child as much as the mother who carries him. She is the one who rests her hands on her belly, radiating warmth and tenderness into her child. She eats and sleeps, her lungs expand and her heart beats for him. She feels his kicking and dancing, and swells with his growth. It's hard for any father to be as attached to his unborn child as the child's mother—obviously physically, but also emotionally. Yet if the little one's days are completed while he's still in his mother's womb, father, mother, brothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers, and fellow church members all mourn his passing.

Then there is the awkward question of burial. Depending upon how old the child is, hospitals may not allow the parents to have their child's body for the rite of Christian burial. We had this happen not too long ago to one of our church families; they had to fight to get their little one from the hospital so they could love him and testify to the resurrection of Jesus Christ through Christian burial.

But even when the father and mother are successful in getting their little one's body out of the hospital's hands, there is no guarantee the church or pastor will agree to hold a service. Some time ago a friend and his wife lost their child in the womb, but when they asked their pastor for a worship service to commemorate their child's death and burial, their pastor refused.

Thankfully, the pastor's associate threatened his senior pastor with charges before their presbytery so the senior pastor relented and agreed to officiate at the child's burial.

Let's admit, though, that it is difficult to know how to respond to a child's death in the womb. How old should the child be before his body is buried? Where should his body be buried and with what sort of worship service—private or public? With the pastor or the father officiating? Should children attend? Should there be a casket? Should the grave be marked? And if so, what should the inscription say?

Mostly, though, the question front and center is how the age of the unborn child should determine each of these things. And as I've lived in this world given over by God to the Molech sacrifices of our unborn children we call "abortion," I've come more and more to the position that we should mourn the death of the unborn child, and when the child's body is fully formed and Christian burial is possible, we should bury him with all the work of grieving and testimony to the resurrection of the dead in Christ that we would give any other man or woman whose days were 15,000 or 25,000 rather than 150 or 175. Yes, it depends on this and that and these decisions are hard, but we should err on the side of providing loving care for the grieving and joining them in testifying to our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Because of the difficulty of some of these decisions, I have put off this series of posts for years. Now though, it is time to start and we begin with this wonderful testimony to the resurrection given by my dear brother in Christ, Stephen Baarendse. Steve and Sara lost their little one almost six years ago. They named her Anna Elisabeth and all the days that were ordained for her by God were complete when their number was only 168.

Here is the memorial of Anna Elisabeth's father upon the death of his beloved daughter.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!