I started the When Jesus Meets series at the beginning of this year to highlight some examples from the Gospel accounts of how Jesus responded when He met different groups of people. I struggled with this post and almost did not share it, because I am unqualified to speak about this topic. There is some pain that will never go away. And I think Jesus’ responses to people teach us that that is okay.
Losing a child is unnatural. It is not supposed to happen. It causes pain; too much pain. We don’t even have a word for the parent who has lost a child. There is no “widow” or “orphan” or anything.
I have been to too many funerals with people who have lost children. I have too many friends who have suffered the pain of miscarriage.
I hate the pain the death of child causes.
I like to use words a lot. But too often I have been rendered speechless by witnessing the pain of a parent who is grieving the loss of their child.
And I still don’t have many words. In fact, I really only have four: Jesus hates it, too.
There are two instances when Jesus meets a family whose child has died. Jairus approaches Jesus as his daughter was at home dying; while Jesus is on the way to Jairus’ house, the daughter dies. As Jesus traveled through the town called Nain, He noticed a funeral procession of a widow’s son.
Both times, He raises the child back to life.
The stories that are selected for the Gospel were chosen for a reason. There is a reason why we read the stories we do and are left to wonder about the other things Jesus said and did.
And in the case of Jairus: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us his story. It was important enough for 3 of the 4 Gospel writers to tell their audience about that story. (And John is just weird.)
In these stories, we see the compassion of Jesus. We see Jesus respond to the pain and agony that only a parent can feel when their child has died. It hurts. It is wrong. It is not fair. It shouldn’t happen.
So Jesus steps in and changes it.
We see Jesus react to many things that are not “normal.” Jesus heals blind people. He heals lame people. He cures leprosy. He makes mute people speak again. When Jesus sees their pain, He responds.
But there is a difference: every single parent who has lost a child would gladly give up their sight if they could have their child back. Every single parent would gladly never walk again if it meant having another conversation with their child. Every single parent would even gladly (GLADLY) take on the sores, pain, and isolation of leprosy if it meant their child would live again.
Every. Single. One.
Jesus was one of those children, too. His mother, Mary, was present at His crucifixion. She saw Him beaten, mocked, spat upon, and killed. She watched as her son died one of the most brutal deaths imaginable.
When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to Simeon in the temple, the old man told Mary a sword would pierce her soul.
Do you think Mary felt as if she was stabbed on the day her son died?
So what does this mean for families today?
Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Like a friend of mine, whose son died very young, posted one Christmas morning: “The cradle is still empty. I know. I checked.”
That pain is not going to go away. That parent will always count the missing child among his children—as he should.
Jesus isn’t around to perform the miracle of resurrection. So what kind of hope do those miracle stories provide? What can I offer besides platitudes?
When Jesus meets a parent who has lost a child, Jesus does what He can to ease the pain. In the case of Jairus and the widow of Nain, that meant raising their child back to life.
But I think what following the way of Jesus today means is presence.
I remember standing on the porch of my parent’s house with my father the day of my brother’s funeral. My dad pointed out to me that people came to the funeral because they loved us. Friends from my high school years were present. People flew from Texas to Maryland to attend the funeral. Calls, emails, cards came in from all over the country. My church family in Abilene stood with hands raised in prayer the night before the funeral, even though I was not physically present with them.
I have attended too many funerals of children since we have moved to Abilene. Here is what I have seen at those funerals: people surrounding the parents with love and encouragement. Crowds of people coming together to honor the memory of a life well-lived, but definitely not lived long enough.
I hear people talk with grieving parents weeks, months, and years after their child has passed away. The parents are reminded that their children are not forgotten; that their pain and grief is not forgotten.
The cradle is still empty. The pain is still there. The parents would still trade anything for one more day with their child.
But the presence of God and a community of faith reminds us that we do not grieve alone.
Your pain is what it should be. The fact that you will never recover fully is fine, because I don’t think God expects you to.
When Jesus meets a grieving parent, He doesn’t take the pain away. He grieves with you.