“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Amanda and John, Ross and Tami, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, along with all those who lifted up Autumn to her heavenly Father in prayer throughout her short time on this earth—grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from Autumn’s Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. When tragedy strikes, we want to speak, we want to answer, we want to explain how such a thing could happen. We want to put God on trial, to acquit or condemn Him for the injustice that we see. We want to peer into His hidden will, to try to understand what kind of good He intends to bring from a mother and father burying their child. We speak pious words, words that try to express our sympathy, that attempt to give a reason for their sorrow. We mean well; we want to help, we want to bring some measure of comfort and understanding to a grieving family. But human words cannot fill the hole in your heart, no matter how heartfelt they are or how nice they sound; they cannot plug the wound.
Every explanation falls flat, every answer is unsatisfying, they cannot bring the comfort you need. All things, from a presidential election, to rain from the heavens, to the death of a child, happen according to God’s loving will, but how that will works itself out for good is always hidden to us. There is no comfort, and no answers, to be found in searching God’s hidden will. Why do tragedies strike, why are we here this morning, grieving the loss of a child who had just entered this world? The answer is simple, it is fundamental, basic to our human existence. The answer is sin. When we are faced with unspeakable tragedy, we can only say that we live in a sin-sick world, a world where terrible things happen, a world ruled by death. We live in a world that is not as God intended it. We live in a world that needs a Savior. We live in a world that needs Jesus.
That is God’s answer to our cries this morning: Jesus. We need Jesus; at no time is that more apparent than when we gather here mourning Autumn. We need Jesus. We need the Jesus who has defeated death, who shed His blood for the sin of the world, who shed His blood for Autumn’s sin. We need Jesus. We need the Jesus who is God in the flesh, come to answer the ravages of sin, the scourge of death. We need Jesus. We need the Jesus who hung upon the cross, giving Himself as the required sacrifice. We need the Jesus who rose on the third day, the firstborn of the dead, proclaiming that the grave had been robbed of its power. We need the Jesus who is God’s answer to our sin, God’s answer to death, God’s answer to our sorrow and grieving. We need this Jesus today, as we grieve and mourn for Autumn. We need this Jesus at each memory, every moment of sorrow. We need Jesus every Sunday, as He comes to us in this sin-sick world with His forgiveness proclaimed from the lips of a pastor, with His Body and Blood given to you in the Lord’s Supper as the food which gives eternal life. We need Jesus every day, every moment, for we live in a world filled with sin and death, and only He has conquered sin, defeated death, and trampled Satan underfoot.
We need the Jesus who welcomes little children. In our Gospel lesson, mothers and fathers were bringing their children to Jesus so that He would touch them. The disciples rebuked them; they thought that the little ones were beneath Jesus’ notice. When we sit here today, we are tempted to think the same thing; to the world it seems that Jesus has forgotten this little one, He has abandoned Autumn. But that isn’t true. “When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.’” This Jesus is for children; this Jesus is for Autumn. He fights for little children; He will not let anyone keep them from Him, not the disciples, not even death. Quite the contrary, Jesus welcomes little children as our examples in the faith. In all other things they follow us, but when it comes to faith and trust in Christ, we follow them. To them belongs the Kingdom of God. They humbly trust, while doubts fill our mind and hearts; they cannot give, but only receive, while we insist on trying to bring our own merits before Jesus. Even little Autumn, in her short time on this earth, proclaimed her faith, teaching us to humbly trust in our Savior, to come before Him empty-handed, with nothing to give, but all to receive.
And Jesus gave her all: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amanda and John, you brought Autumn to Jesus so that He might touch her with salvation, and He did. Vicar Ross fulfilled the duty of every Christian in an emergency and gave to her the washing of the water with the Word. Autumn needed the Jesus who welcomes children, and He did welcome her. He touched her with His life-giving water; He made her a member of the Kingdom of God, an heir of eternal life. Jesus took her up in His arms that day and blessed her, and He has not let go. Jesus fights for His little ones; nothing, not even death itself, will hinder them from coming to Him, for the Jesus who said, “Let the children come to me” is the same Jesus who rose from the grave on Easter morning. He conquered death not for His own sake, but so that He could draw all people to Himself. He gives His children resurrection victory; because He lives, they too will live, along with you and all who cling to this Jesus whom we so desperately need. Autumn is not dead; she is sleeping, her body resting here on this earth and her soul in the loving arms of Jesus. And because He rose from the grave triumphant over death, so she will be raised, body and soul, to live before God’s throne forever. Death cannot have her; she belongs to Jesus. Because Jesus lives, Autumn lives too, and she lives forever!
Jesus holds Autumn now, Amanda and John; He holds her until you will hold her again. You will not just see her, you will hold her, you will touch her and kiss her, you will play with her and love her. You will be with her forever. She will welcome you to the eternal glory that Jesus has won, the new heaven and new earth prepared for her, the new heaven and new earth prepared for you. She will greet you in love and then point you to Jesus, whose blood paid for her sin and yours, who made an eternity without sin, an eternity without death, a reality. That day will come, and it will be a day when all sorrow ends, when every tear is wiped from your eyes. It will be a day when all questioning ceases. We wait, laboring in our journey through this world of sin, to receive what Autumn is already enjoying. She is where we belong. She is with Jesus. We need that Jesus; today, and every day, for only He can give you true comfort, only He can fill that wound, that hole in your heart. Yes, you will still mourn, yes, you will still have sorrow. Even time, with all of its healing power, can never completely erase the pain. But because of your Jesus, because of Autumn’s Jesus, you do not mourn as those who have no hope. Like Rachel, you grieve for your child, but God promises that in Jesus, “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.” You mourn in hope, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. That is your comfort in this time of sorrow, and that, dear friends and family of Amanda and John, is the comfort that you give to this grieving family.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Amen.