All mankind fell in Adam's fall; one common sin infects us all. From sire to son the curse descends, and over all God's wrath impends.
But Christ, the second Adam, came to bear our sin and woe and shame, to be our life, our light, our way, our only hope, our only stay.
We were expecting our tenth child. He was eight weeks in the womb, by the doctor's reckoning. I say "he," but we are not privileged to know whether this baby is a son or daughter; perhaps in heaven we shall know. It is sufficient for me that he was our child, either way, and thus a human being, not a random conglomerate of cells and tissue. The Author and Giver of life opened the womb and knit the little one inside; he was fearfully and wonderfully made in that secret, hidden place. What is not known to me is known full well by his Father in heaven. Not yet with any hairs on his head to be numbered, he was and is more precious to his Lord than are the sparrows or the lilies of the field. In Christ Jesus, we are all adopted and reborn as sons of God by grace.
He has no birthday on earth for us to celebrate, but he was delivered from the burdens of this mortal life and borne unto Abraham's bosom this past Wednesday, the 20th of February, Anno Domini 2008. God grant that his poor little body may now rest in peace until the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
That same day, I had earlier received word of another miscarriage, of another baby who had died in the womb (in anonymity). The serendipities of life are sometimes not amusing at all, but surreal. I went directly from such news of prenatal death to the impending death of my own unborn child. I do not recall the point at which I was turned from worry and concern over what might happen, to the realization of what had already occurred. The day proceeded with all its other cares and occupations, and I did what I was given to do. My sermon for that evening was on the Apostles' Creed — Creation, Redemption and Sanctification — or, life, life and more life, as I have often described in the past. This is most certainly true. It was only after the fact that I would realize the extent to which I was preaching to myself.
We had not yet shared the news that we were expecting a new baby. Our tradition has always been that we take the whole family out for a meal and let the other children be the first to know. In this case, we knew that wasn't going to be possible. We won't have our children all together again until May, and there would have been no secrets left to share by then. The baby was due in October, right around the time of our Nicholai's fourteenth birthday. We would not wait until May, but we were waiting for some final word concerning our Zachary, who fell and hit his head quite hard this past month. As it is, we are still waiting on the official results of a recent MRI to let us know that he has fully recovered from his injury. We should have that news in hand this Friday, and so I had anticipated an announcement regarding our baby this weekend.
Instead, as it has pleased the Lord, according to His good and gracious will, we are given to share the bittersweet news that our little one has gone ahead of us to abide in the nearer presence of his Savior and ours, Christ Jesus.
We have been granted peace and comfort in the Gospel, and in the precious words that so many brothers and sisters in Christ have written and spoken to us. We have taken firmly to heart that our Lord Himself, the very Son of God, was conceived in the womb of His own Mother, and that He also lived as true Man, our Brother in the flesh, through the same eight weeks of life as our little one. We know that Christ Jesus our Lord does not despise the little children, but receives them to Himself in love and mercy and tender compassion, with free and full forgiveness of sins. For death itself is the irrefutable testimony that our baby, even in the womb, was conceived a sinner like his parents. But Christ is the Savior of sinners, and He does not withhold His Word of forgiveness from even the least of these, His brethren. He causes His Gospel to be preached in all the world, "to all creation" (St. Mark 16:15). And if He has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, He has revealed them to infants (St. Matthew 11:25, the Gospel for St. Matthias).
Woe to those who cause one of these little ones who believe in Him to stumble! But Christ be praised that He permitted no such scandal ever to afflict our infant child, who has now departed from the inner sanctum of his mother's womb to the safety and eternal Sabbath Rest of heaven.
As my own pastor has so wisely and beautifully counseled us, we did everything we were given and enabled to do for this child. For the eight weeks that he was entrusted to our care, while in the womb, we loved him and prayed for him and immersed him in the catechesis of the Word of God, both at home and in the congregation of the Church. We have not caused him to stumble, but have laid him upon the mercies of God in Christ, and have entrusted him in confidence to the One who created him for life with Himself forever. The Lord our God has exercised His own Paternal prerogative in this case, and has thus removed from us any cause for worry or anxiety. In how many ways, over the years, have we fallen short in parenting our other children? Always in our own works, there is such imperfection, and therefore uncertainty and fear. Even at our very best, the outcome of our efforts is beyond our control. Well-catechized children sometimes fall. There is certainty only in the Word and works of God, and we shall rejoice that He has acted.
We shall rejoice in Christ, the moreso as time passes and the tides of sadness retreat from washing over us so often. In the meantime, I am assailed and tossed back and forth betwixt the peaceful confidence of faith and the turbulence of grief and fear. Probably the most poignant moment was this past Friday night, when we told our other children that they have a younger sibling who has already died and gone to heaven. Such terrible sorrow I have never seen in my dear children all at once, though each of them reacted differently, in his or her own way. Poor Nicholai had guessed and happily anticipated that we would be announcing a new baby, and he was devastated to hear and comprehend the additional news of that child's death. Little Frederick was perplexed and frightened by the fact that his whole family was suddenly crying. Monica and Oly'anna wanted to know everything that could possibly be known about the baby, and it was heartbreaking to have so very little we could tell them. Justinian retreated to his bed with a sad little look on his face, while Ariksander simply sat in silence, his head bowed and his shoulders sagging. What could any of them do? They all cast about in their own ways, as LaRena and I have done, for some kind of handle on their grief, some way of mourning the loss of a sibling they never got to see or hold.
For myself, too, it has been difficult to know what I should do. The Lord has taken out of my hands all that I would have done for this tenth child of mine. I will not feed or clothe him. I'll never change his diapers or burp him. I won't take him for walks, to the movies or out for ice cream. LaRena and I were granted the profound privilege of being the instruments by which God the Father Almighty created and gave life to this little person. And for a little while, I was privileged to preach the Word of God to him, to pray with him and for him. But now what?
One of the primary ways that I have exercised and expressed my vocation as a father is by naming each of my children. Already I had begun the joyful task of ruminating over names for our new baby, considering combinations, rolling possibilities over my tongue, and testing them on my wife for her reactions. But there will not be a little boy or girl for me to name in October. The names I had in mind are just words again, not children. Nevertheless, I wanted to name this baby who has died, so that we would have a way to think of him as a person, to remember him rightly as best we can. So I suggested that we call him Job, after the faithful Old Testament father who did not curse but continued to bless God when his ten children were put to death by Satan's wicked machinations. This name has pleased our family, too, and has been helpful to us.
The world in which we live does not know how to think about life and death, because it does not comprehend the Word by whom all things are made. Only days before Job died, our DoRena was home for a visit and shared with us a discussion and debate over abortion that has been taking place in her medical ethics class. I was appalled at what she told us. Evidently, there is equivocation, even among conservative pro-life proponents, as to whether a fetus is really a person in the first two weeks of life. Theological arguments are out of bounds in the medical ethics class, but one can't get this right without theology. Science and legalities must finally bow before the divine Logos. In Him there is the bedrock of our human personhood, to begin with, as well as our eternal life and salvation. His Incarnation fulfills and perfects our humanity, even as He is the Image and Likeness of God in which we are created to begin with. And He did not cease to be a Person when He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This Son of Man, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, was born of the Woman to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. He has become flesh and blood like us; He has borne our sins and carried all our sorrows in His own body to the Cross; and He has conquered sin, death, the devil and hell, by His atoning sacrifice as the very Lamb of God. So has God the Father sacrificed His beloved and well-pleasing Son, in order that we and all our children may live forever by His Gospel, by His forgiveness of all our sins.
"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:16-18)
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