The email started out like the others I’ve received when Oakwood Cemetery has reached out to us to officiate at a Pauper funeral. But this one tore me.
Name – LIVESTONE BABY
Sex – Male
Race – Black
Date of Birth – October 22, 2016
Date of Death – October 22, 2016
This time an infant. An infant who died with no name, who lay in the cold and dark of a morgue cooler for four months. Did he lie there unclaimed, or has his mama tried frantically to find the means to pay for his burial? We don’t know. I understand tomorrow he will be brought to us in a small cardboard box. Perhaps family members will be present as well. For sure, members of the “Children of God Cemetery Guild” will help me return him to his Creator.
Although we have a standard Office of Burial for people who ended their days utterly alone and with nothing left to call their own, I have spent time today preparing an Office of Burial For An Infant. We will begin with the resurrection anthems from the BCP. I have taken the liberty of writing a collect:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray. Loving God, who created, redeemed and always sustains us, we come before you this day with broken and convicted hearts. We know not this little one’s given name, yet, we are assured by psalmists and prophets alike, that even when he was in his mother’s womb, you already knew him and you called him by name. Now we return him to your abiding compassion. Be with his mother, in whatever her circumstances and condition. Be present with us who have gathered to celebrate a brief life and the little light that shone forth in world, though none could see it. Strengthen our resolve to be tireless in our work on behalf of your kingdom, where every single one of your children, young or old, rich or poor, will be honored and called, “Beloved of God”. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Together we will read a part of Psalm 139 and hear the Gospel of Matthew that reminds us of Jesus’ infinite love for the little children. We will say the beautiful prayers of commendation that also come from the Book of Common Prayer, and then we will commit that small, infinitely precious, cardboard box to the earth. Like a mama hen, may God hold that little boy safe beneath strong wings, and may God have mercy on us all for our blindness, willful and not, for our fear of scarcity that makes us so stingy with our abundance, and for all the ways in which we dishonor the loving kindness with which we were created and called to be builders of God’s kingdom.