My brother-in-law walked across the way at daybreak to dig a hole in the graveyard, the first hole, under an old white oak, for the youngest and newest of the membership. My sister’s labor pains were unlike those before. “Much worse,” she said. How could it be, to deliver a body just the size of a walnut, a person, just ten weeks old? A person, nevertheless, and dead, no longer pulsing hope, the doctor told them days ago, though my sister knew. We will go to the child, but she will not come to us.
My sister and I spent yesterday at home, waiting, talking it through. What will it be like to meet the unborn in heaven? We imagine the stories of the saints, but what of these? “I was the Image of God in the place of the incarnation,” the baby would say. “My life was a vapor. I was broken. Jesus came and made all things new.” What more could I say, though full of days? What, but this, do the angels long to see?
We talked of patience, thinking we bore it, little knowing what was to come. We searched for some good word, and read of all the world’s waiting ones, the lonely, the barren, the empty, the poor, the waiting of the very world itself. We cried David’s “how long?” and our Lord’s “why?” We rejoiced in the broadening of our sensitivity, the softening of our hearts. The word “miscarriage” had come to us oblivious, but no more. We prayed, needs crowding in, with increased perception of the world’s pain, yours and mine and our neighbors.
Then, at last, the baby came, slowly, in agonizing hours of not knowing. Between contractions, in the blood, we would ask: Was that the baby? Despair came to my sister, in words she never spoke in bringing forth life. I can’t do this. Yes you can. What do I do? Wait. When will it end? Soon. I want it to be over. I know. I wanted to say, as I had before, Your labor is not in vain. The baby will be here soon, but I couldn’t. The good news had died.
Deliverance came as it does, every time— in a moment. The placenta filled my hands, an oval, tightly woven. Father and mother hovered over. Would you open it for us? Suspended inside was the baby, little eyes and hands, bellybutton, feet, the image of God in the place of the incarnation. I have seen two healthy births, baby girls come sliding into home. I have held a hand as it passed from life unto death unto life again, as an old man gave up his soul. This unborn baby was like these things in splendor, and we were honored and we were grateful.
So we walked over to meet him, father and gravedigger, across the way, carrying the little body wrapped in white linen. We ascended the hill, and gathered together.
The doctor called them into his office after the ultrasound. “Many people look for meaning after a thing like this,” he said.
My sister laid her baby in the tomb. Her husband took her hand and sang, “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace; In the mansions bright and blessed. He’ll prepare for us a place.…” She opened her Bible and read,
“ Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
It was not that they were looking for meaning, this man and woman on the hilltop in the early morning. They were too tired for that. But it rose like the sun among us, shadowed and slow, revealing a day we did not wish to see. In waiting, in sleepless nights, in labor, in fears, in blood, in tears, in a grave, in the gospel of the brokenhearted, in the life of the world to come, in a moment, our labor is not in vain and behold, I tell a mystery: the baby will be here soon. The Good News died, and lives again, is lost and now is found. Talitha cumi, little girl, I say to you, arise.