December 6, 2008
“For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me.” – Jeremiah 8:21.
One by one they are set ablaze, lit from the single “Christ candle” on the altar. Eighteen candles, eighteen children, eighteen tiny lives taken before they saw the light of day, ushered from the womb directly into the arms of their heavenly Father. The darkness of the church sanctuary this evening cannot extinguish the light of eighteen candles. The darkness encompassing the hearts of eight women cannot dim the hope of eighteen flickering flames. For weeks these hurting souls have gathered together to re-open chronically raw wounds of the past and expose them to the healing power of an infinitely compassionate and merciful God. Tonight they are ready, ready to pack up years of depression and despair, ready to turn their backs on anger and bitterness, ready to walk away from self-condemnation and shame. Tonight they have gathered to say goodbye to eighteen candles.
Lovingly, prayerfully they have chosen names, eighteen names for eighteen candles – eighteen names that will never grace the pages of any official documents – eighteen names that will never appear on a signature – eighteen names that will never graduate, make a scientific discovery, compose a song, preach a sermon, get married or bear children – eighteen names that will never answer on earth when called.
Tenderly, gently they hold on to eighteen candles with eight pair of grieving hands – hands that will never change the diapers of their missing children – hands that will never tuck them into bed – hands that will never soothe their hurts, calm their fears, applaud their achievements, braid their ponytails, tie their shoes, pack their lunches or lead them to their first day of school – hands that ache to caress what they cannot touch, long to feel the warmth of an embrace they will never know, reach for tiny fingers they will never grasp – hands that instead cling to the tragic reality of eighteen candles.
Mournfully, wistfully eight pair of eyes stare into the flames of eighteen candles and fill with tears – tears of regret for years of mothering that will never be, and tiny lives which will never grow up – tears of remorse for the burden of knowing their own decisions have led to this tragedy – tears of grief for their own lives which have suffered overwhelmingly with physical complications, the break up of marriages, mental and emotional instability, and self punishment by not feeling worthy of marriage or having more children or being loved by anyone including themselves. And there are tears of anger – anger over spouses, parents, doctors and well-meaning friends who talked them into a decision they will eternally regret – anger over those who never told them the truth about what they were doing – anger over being caught up in the world’s most horrific holocaust – anger over eighteen candles.
“Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” – Jeremiah 9:1. “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15.
But there are also tears of release – tears that well up from the deepest recesses of their souls and, moved by the Spirit of the God of mercy and grace, wash away a raging torrent of anger, bitterness, self-condemnation and shame leaving behind an ocean of peace – tears that reflect the joy of knowing their darkest secrets, their most wicked sins, have been forever removed (“as far as the east is from the west” – Psalm 103:12) and forgotten by the God who gave His only Son to bear our sins in His body and suffer death on the cross in our place – tears that touch the heart of the God who is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3), who keeps an account of them (Ps. 56:8), and wipes them away with His everlasting love (Rev. 7:17).
Slowly, deliberately, with the calm assurance of knowing their lives are forever redeemed, miraculously transformed and joyously renewed, eight women rise to their feet and walk to the front of the sanctuary carrying in their trembling hands eighteen candles. One by one with a tearful farewell and with the certain knowledge that they will one day be joyfully reunited with their children, they extinguish the flames of eighteen candles into the one flame representing the light of Christ.
The memorial service has finished. Burdens have been lifted. Divine healing is well underway. Eight women are walking taller, smiling more profusely, making plans more confidently, and basking in the warmth of God’s unfailing love, a love they have not allowed themselves to fully enjoy until now – a love they have never fully understood until now – a love they would not have fully known were it not for eighteen candles – eighteen reminders of how great was their sin – eighteen reasons to rejoice that God’s grace is greater. Yet even now they cannot possibly comprehend the full measure of His love. Even now the brightness of God’s presence cannot diminish the light of eighteen tiny flames freshly raptured from an earthly sanctuary and now dancing upon an altar of gold, frolicking in celestial clouds of glory, flickering in the gentle breath of the Almighty, reflecting in the pure water of the “crystal sea.”
Suddenly, myriads of angels cease their winging. Cherubim and Seraphim hush their singing. All heaven turns toward the throne in reverence and awe marveling to see the Father, with His head in His hands, weeping – weeping over eighteen candles.
Bill, a child of God, privileged to be called to mourn for our lost children