Those Who Mourn

(Editor’s note: Ian has been unable to continue this blog on the daily schedule this weekend because his computer was at the store longer than expected – Ian Burgess, Executive Editor)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

A young man with a little girl and a beautiful wife was struck with an agressive brain tumor. His condition was terminal. This was a beloved member of the congregation I work for, and sadly I never got to meet him. I did get the chance to serve his family by running A/V for the memorial service. I was thankful for that.

There is something offensive to us, when a 35 year old man is stolen from our midst. None of our usual clichés cut it for us:

“It was his time”
“She was in a lot of pain…”
“He went home to Jesus”
“I know how you feel”

Words are small comfort at the best of times. At times like these they are offensive.

With what words do you comfort a grieving family? A mourning community?

The pain of loss is felt most acutely in a death. It’s the tear of separation, when a loved one is ripped away from us. It’s stolen treasure.

Jesus does not specify what a person ought to mourn, only that they will be comforted. Could it be the pain of loss? The deep wounds of our brokenness? The ache wrought by an evil intrusion into our lives? It could be all of the above.

In his previous statement, Jesus declared the poor in spirit ‘blessed’ (Matthew 5:3). How is this different?

Mourning implies something which was once known being taken away. I’m not sure one can mourn something they’ve never had, so much as desire it (which Jesus gets to shortly).

Perhaps it can be interpreted in paralel with the previous verse: The poor in spirit is the offender and the one who mourns is the one offended against? Maybe if the poor in spirit is the one who knows he needs to be ‘saved’, the mourner is the one who has been forgotten and abandoned. The mourner is the one who examines his soul and sees the ruin the death-reign of this world has brought. Maybe he once knew goodness and love, but these things were taken from him.

Regardless, Jesus doesn’t specify. It’s almost like he leaves these words open to interpretation. He promises comfort – freely, to anyone who mourns. One of the study bibles I own makes the interpretive leap to tell me that those who are sorry for their sins will be comforted. Jesus seems far more generous with his promise.

It’s almost as though anyone who knows the pain of loss will find hope in God’s kingdom.

How terribly glib! Jesus, the famed preacher, healer, teacher. He is going to talk to me about loss?

Or is it the shamed worm nailed to a cross? Is he the one extending the hand?

We’re not quite there yet. The listener must take Jesus at his word.

Heaven is the kingdom where the mourner finds comfort. They are blessed, because the comforter is God, in human flesh, beaten and thrown to the dust alongside all the other mourners.

As the disciples hear this, is it an instruction for them? Is it an instruction for us, now?

In the end, though, would the mourner rather have comfort, or their loss recovered? Would not the grieving family prefer their dad returned to them? The soul which has endured terrible grief, to have the thing to sorely missed, replaced?

Why should the mourner want this comfort?

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5 Comments

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  1. I totally agree we can’t read things in that aren’t there (I too have heard the suggestion that they are mourning because they are sorry for their sins. However we can look at what Jesus has to say on the subject of mourning elsewhere. Matt 9 v 15 and Matt 24 v 30 maybe give some insight into the focus of the mourning Jesus may be talking about. Maybe Jesus is talking about knowing the Saviour – recognising who he is mourning his death. Understanding what he has done for us. Comprehending the enormity of his sacrifice – is maybe an element of faith that Jesus is pointing out is an entry requirement into this Kingdom. And of course at the end – all peoples will realise what they missed and mourn? So could the mourning that Jesus is talking about (and the only mourning that actually makes any sense – is mourning for God’s son who died on the cross – to mourn like God mourned?

    Not quite sure what you mean by an instruction? Aren’t these just statements of entry rather than instructions. If you mourn you are blessed and you get……….. Throughout God’s word he says constantly if …….. then …….. if you do this then this …….. if you don’t do this then this ………. Jesus is stating requirements – he does not seem at this point to be requiring anything of anyone just making statements of fact. He progresses into kingdom living after he has stated the entry requirements for getting into the kingdom in the first place. You don’t have to obey the rules of a club until you have joined the club – but you do need to know the entry procedure.

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  2. One can see it as an instruction for the disciples in that it assumes the mourner is comforted. Does that imply a role for the believer to fill? Remember we are told there are two groups listening here, the crowd and the disciples thus implying 2 different ways of hearing these words.

    I’m sure there is a great depth to ‘mourning’ and Jesus’ words seem to be vague enough to encompass a variety of meanings.

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  3. I suppose it depends on whether we see these verses as kingdom entry requirements or kingdom living principles.

    I really don’t see them as instructions. Jesus is usually very direct about instructions to his disciples – there seems no instruction here unless very well hidden so are we right to assume one is hidden?

    If I say to you blessed is your minister because he works hard so he’s going to get a holiday! nothing in that statement implies that it your responsiblity to bless him or give him the holiday?

    I agree that modern life dictates a great depth in mourning – there are whole industries out there dedicated to making money out of it!!! from funeral directors to bereavement councelling and psyco-analysts – but not sure that the bible gives us this image?

    I am also not sure I would ever use the word “vague” when referrring to the Words of Jesus!!!!

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  4. re the above comment: I’m a psychotherapist in the NHS who does bereavement counselling. I do get paid for what I do but I do a lot voluntarily. Some of us do these things because it’s our calling rather than simply to make money. It is a privilege to comfort others with the comfort we have known – to draw alongside people when they are in their darkest hour. It’s not always easy though and it’s not a gift that everyone has. I reject the idea of being part of an industry dedicated to making money.

    I have been through a long season of loss too. I see mourning as the cost of loving. If we love, we will inevitably lose what we love in this life, as separation is part of life. If our hearts are soft and we allow ourselves to love deeply, we will feel deep pain on separation. In loss, it comforts me to know that God feels pain – He knows my pain. He knows the pain of separation (from His children). he knows the pain of loss. It also helps when I remember that everything I lost was a gift from Him in the first place. It comforts me that the Israelites in exile knew all about loss and separation. I hang on to the truth that sorrow lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning. That he who sows in tears will reap in joy.

    Ian, re your final question about having the loss replaced vs comfort, that’s a tough one. Is it too much of a cliche to say “better to have loved and lost….”? Heidi Baker once begged God to do ANYTHING so long as it meant she could grow more like Him. That’s the sort of attitude I’m trying to cultivate at the moment: to grow through trials and adversity – and, indeed, through loss.

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    • For this website? Yes it is too cliché 😉

      One of the threads I am exploring is how the promises of the Beatitudes are disappointing if one’s priority is not Jesus. That was really the point of that statement.

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