Welcome You Who Mourn
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Who are you as a follower of Christ? Who am I as a follower of Christ? Who would you be as a follower of Christ? Did you know that as followers of Christ, we’re called to be peculiar people? 1 Peter 2:9 goes like this – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” A people for God’s possession. A peculiar people, as the King James version, puts it. I remember expressing to my family the feeling of being different, having been the only one in my immediate family to be born in Canada. “Oh you’re different alright,” my brother told me (lovingly!) Some of us might welcome this news more than others, but the point remains the same. We are different and life in the kingdom of heaven is different. When it comes to mourning, this is so true. Blessed are those who mourn? In a good place are those who mourn? Oh, the bliss of those who mourn? How dissonant does this sound? As a pastor you get to think a lot about mourning. I’ve taken part in what seems like more funerals than usual over the last two years. Of course, we’re all called to come alongside those who mourn, to weep with those who weep. We have a different take on mourning most definitely.
I was reminded of this at a funeral service for an elder saint. Her grandson was speaking during the time of family tributes. He recalled a time when his grandmother was going to a lot of funerals. “You get to a certain age and find that many of your friends are dying,” she told him. He said to her “Don’t you get sad going to so many funerals, saying goodbye to so many friends?” She looked at him, paused for a moment, and said, “Well I have to tell you, I really enjoy the sandwiches they serve afterwards.”
Looking on the bright side, because there are two sides. Luke 1:78-79 are two verses that I usually read at the beginning of a funeral: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” To give light. There are two sides, and we live between “Blessed are those who mourn” and “for they will be comforted.” This is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is describing and inviting us into the kingdom of heaven through these eight Beatitudes which we are looking at one by one over eight weeks. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who know their need for something beyond themselves and recognize that need is met in the man who is sitting down in the grass before us.
Blessed are those who mourn. How could this be? There is a great irony about mourning, I believe, in our world today. There is little else that touches the centre of the human condition, that is so foundational to the experience of being human in this world, as much as mourning does. We all experience loss. We all experience faint spirits. We know what it is like to be dispirited. We all know what it is like to be alienated from self, from one another, from God. (When we speak of a blessedness in mourning, we’re not just talking about loss, we’re also talking about mourning sins).
At the same time, is there any action which the world runs away from faster than mourning? I saw an ad recently for an Irish whiskey which amazed me in its depiction of a burial – how often do you see that in advertising? Here’s the ad in its entirety though.
How do we face loss? Tell ourselves that it’s all about me and my level of enjoyment? How is that working for us? Do we simply do our best to ignore it? How much of our lives do we spend in introspection and examining the deepest parts of our hearts? How numbed do we become to stories of death and suffering, or to stories of species extinction? Does the news just bounce off or does it remind us that all creation groans, awaiting the renewal of all things? Do we groan and do we ask “How are we living exactly?” or do we throw up our hands in despair or apathy? It’s been said “When we die, we will not be criticized for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have some explanation to offer to God for not having mourned unceasingly.”
It’s also been said, “In the deserts of the heart/ Let the healing fountains start…” In the places where we are bereft, disquieted, dispirited, the healing fountains start. The healing water flows from the one who promises living water. There are two parts to each of these beatitudes, and we’re not called to be morbid. We’re called to be serious though, and to take the conditions of life seriously and to face them head-on. We don’t do this on our own, of course, and we always remember the one who is speaking these Beatitudes.
One of the central planks of Jesus’ mission is to comfort those who mourn. This is a universal mission, meaning it’s for everyone, so let’s hear these words no matter where we are on the whole Jesus thing. Listen to how the job of the Messiah, the chosen one, the anointed one, the one who would save us, is described in Isaiah 61 (and these words should sound most familiar) – “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
How good is that promise, we who mourn? This is serious stuff and to follow Christ is serious business. In his sermon on this Beatitude, 20th-century Welsh preacher David Martin Llyod-Jones speaks of the “glib joviality” of the church. The plastic smiles, the glad-handing. This was years before the phrase “happy-clappy Christians” came into vogue. We’re not called to this. “Blessed are those who mourn” could be translated “Blessed are those who grieve” or “Blessed are those who weep.” “Intense heartbreaking sorrow” is how it’s been described. Sorrow for our actions and inactions that keep us from God – our actions and inactions that are brought to light when we come to God with a poverty of spirit that seeks to bring nothing but our need for God. It’s a good practice to go through our day with God at the end of the day and ask for forgiveness and transformation in the parts of the day where we missed the mark. It’s a good practice for us as a church to examine ourselves, and mourn, and ask God for forgiveness and transformation where we are missing the mark.
Is there a more universal need than the one which calls us to mourn where and when we miss the mark? One commentator puts it like this, “Anyone who has lived into adulthood has a large supply of memories that arouse shame and regret: lies told, times of cowardice, help not given, forgiveness refused, passions given free reign, harm caused others. There is a great deal in our lives for which we can only lament… and seek forgiveness.”
Coming to God with empty hands, asking for mercy. Kyrie Elieson is the prayer that’s been used for centuries in Christian worship. I was unfamiliar with it until later years. The first time I heard the phrase was probably in the Mr. Mister song (and I thought he was saying “Kyrie lays on down the road that I must travel” – you can look that up if you like). Lord have mercy on us.
To mourn is to indicate that the status quo is not acceptable. To mourn is to yearn for something else. It’s been described as ardent, painful longing for the kingdom, as we experience God with us now and as we will experience God with us when the kingdom comes in all its fullness at the renewal of all things. To mourn is to be comforted. We always must come back to the man who is speaking these words, Jesus. The one in whom the dawn from on high has broken upon us is breaking upon us and will break upon us. The giver of comfort. For they will be comforted. When we speak of the comfort of God we’re speaking of solace, the idea that God is making whole, or that God is repairing faint injured spirits; that God is restoring broken faith. To know the comfort of God has been described as being “strengthened, fortified, defended, deepened, enlarged, elevated.”
To know the comfort of God is to know that God is one who remakes. God is one who remakes us into God’s image when we cry out to him for mercy and forgiveness. To know the comfort of Jesus is to stand at a graveside and be strengthened and defended even there because in Christ we know that the graveside scene is not the end of the story. It’s not the end of the story because we’re going to cut to a bar scene and – not because we are thinking that the main thing is enjoy ourselves, but because we have been given a vision of how the story ends up.
It’s a vision of swords beaten into plowshares; spears into pruning hooks. It’s a vision of going out in joy and being led back in peace. A vision of mountains and hills bursting into song, and all the trees of the fields clapping their hands (and is it any wonder that Jesus would say that if his followers were silent the very stones would shout out). It is the sound of a voice saying “See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes, Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said “See, I am making all things new.”
Please make sure that is read at my grave because I am a peculiar person. Also, enjoy the sandwiches. We are peculiar people in Christ, called to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
A people who know comfort in mourning. A people called to make God’s comfort and consolation known as we go through our days. A people sitting at the feet and listening to the voice of the who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
In closing, I want to share something from David Martin-Lloyd Jones, as he preached on this Beatitude. It’s a description of the Christian who mourns and is comforted:
“He is a sorrowful man, but he is not morose. He is a sorrowful man, but he is not a miserable man… There is with his gravity a warmth and attraction… The true Christian is never a man who has to put on an appearance of either sadness or joviality. No, no: he is a man who looks at life seriously; he contemplates it spiritually, and he sees in it sin and its effects… His outlook is always serious, but because of these views which he has, and his understanding of truth, he also has a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ So he is like the apostle Paul, ‘groaning within himself, and yet happy because of his experience of Christ and the glory that is to come… it is a solemn joy, it is a holy joy, it Is a serious happiness; so that, though he is grave and sober-minded and serious, he is never cold nor prohibitive. Indeed, he is like our Lord Himself, groaning, weeping, and yet, ‘for the joy that was set before him’ enduring the cross, despising the shame. That is the man who mourns; that is the Christian.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God grant that through the Holy Spirit, this may be true for each of us dear friends.