A Funeral

Alexandra Township Johannesburg
Alexandra Township Johannesburg

Each Friday Hannah and I hang out with a group of young orphans at a crèche in the township of Alex. Granny Evelyn, the Mother Theresa of Alex, cares for the children from 7 am to 5 pm each day out of the goodness of her heart and without monetary compensation. Many of the children even live with Granny, who offers them asylum from their atrocious family situations. My days with these kids are a life highlight, so I was very disturbed by a call I received from Hannah late one night this week. Gomolemo, one of the youngest children at the crèche, died of a chest virus on Monday. Gomolemo had been in my arms just days before. I had fed him and hugged him. And now this sweet baby is dead.

I committed to doing life with these people. This week I learned that doing life together means doing death together. 

Early Thursday morning Hannah and I traveled into the heart of Alex to the home of Gomolemo's family. We were invited inside as relatives gathered to mourn the loss of this child, whose body lay in the back room, from which a stream of silently sobbing people continuously flowed all morning. Later, under the shade of a white tent, a pastor poured words of encouragement and prayer over the bereaved family, and the crowd sang hymn after hymn. The repeated lyrics were a salve rubbed into their still bleeding wounds of grief. I was struck with how the chorus of African a cappella voices, at times the world's most joyful noise, could sound so mournful. Although mainly Zulu was spoken, the sorrow of the words needed no translation. 

We made our way to the graveyard and, under the white hot sun, watched as the tiny coffin was lowered into the ground. The crowd stood in silence as friends of the family shoveled dirt into the hole, then covered the mound with flowers. My heart is still heavy with the memory of Gomolemo's young mother, with Gomolemo's bright round eyes, hunched and sobbing at the graveside. As we stood on the cusp of Good Friday, I understood the despair of this day in a fresh way. But the attending pastor offered this resonant thought: When a parent buries her child, she buries that which was her future. But today we must refuse to bury our hope with the body of that baby. 

I can think of a few people whose hope was sealed in a tomb with the lifeless body of that which was their future, their Messiah, their Jesus. Good Friday realized the greatest fears of Christ's followers. Fortunately, Sunday soon follows Friday.

While precious Gomolemo's death is final, our hope still abounds. In fact, it is because our Jesus died and rose again that we can even bear this baby's death. Christ's death and resurrection supply us with the gift of eternity with Him and are, therefore, the wellsprings of every hope we have in this life. I firmly believe that Gomolemo is now whole and free in the presence of his Maker. Although he was spared what likely would have been an ugly life, the loss is no less agonizing. As we mourn the life of our baby angel this week, I'm claiming the triumphant truth spoken by Pope John Paul II:

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the people of Easter and Hallelujah is our song.

Refuse to bury your hope, because our Hope is alive. Today the tomb is empty.