Beatitude Series - part 2
Blessed are those who mourn
for they shall be comforted.
Are you mourning?
When that question sinks in, when I really ask it to myself, I realize a more accurate question is this one, What are you mourning right now?
Take a minute and call it to mind and heart. Those things and people you are mourning.
Let’s invite them into the room so we can hear this alongside our mourning.
I am mourning a dear friend moving away and having a baby far from me, where I don’t get to be part of her life like I had dreamed of being.
I am mourning a relationship severed with dishonesty and pain and silence so extended that I no longer see how it can ever be mended.
But right now I am most mourning for my beloved foster nieces and nephews, who are about to leave the care of the only stability and family they’ve ever known, their home for 2 ½ years, and drop utterly unanchored into a dilapidated and defective Jackson County foster care system. The family that was going to adopt them has backed out, and their future went from settled and hopeful to frightening and unknown.
I am mourning for my sister and her husband, whose anticipation of the birth of their third child is overshadowed by their own desperate mourning for these children. Mourning is all they can do – letting go, deep sadness and terrible grief, for what could have been and wont be, for what might be that they have no control to stop or hold back, for so much that feels outside of their power.
And in their exhaustion and at the end of themselves, still the love is so big and their lives are so bound to these little ones, that the grief feels monstrous and never-ending.
They are mourning.
And every single night my kids pray for a forever family for their foster cousins. (And my daughter adds, “And may they live no further from us than church!”) But every day it continues as it is, with no end in sight.
And so we mourn.
And the world feels full to bursting with things that deserve mourning, that cry out to be mourned.
Blessed are those who mourn.
When we began our series on The Beatitudes last week, we talked about the meaning of blessed- which is something like deeply contented, grounded and grateful, “in on the miracle.” And we also noticed how the beatitudes are the beginning of a long Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, or, life as God means it to be shared.
He said life as God means it to be shared begins not with all we should do and how we should live, but right here, with blessing.
It begins with being honored, and grateful, and in on the miracle.
And then he says that the ones who are in on the miracle are the poor in spirit- those with nothing in them to fake it, the unworthy and broken.
Life as God means for it to be shared belongs to the wretched.
Also in on the miracle? Those who mourn.
In life as God means for it to be shared, those who mourn are in on the miracle, for they will be comforted.
This word for mourn is gut-wrenching grief – it’s the strongest possible word for mourning. Blessed are those who are in absolute abject despair.
And comforted here is the strongest possible word for comforted – not comfort as in comfortable, like hanging out in a familiar place with a hot cup of tea and your feet propped up. But comforted as in completely propped up on someone else’s strength. Comforted here is not a pat on the head and shush word, but a walk-alongside, holding up word, carrying with you the enormity of your burden.
Blessed are those who find themselves in gut-wrenching grief, because they will be held up and carried by someone else’s strength. They discover life as God means for it to be shared.
Mourning in many times and cultures is an official act – a communal practice, designated by certain dress and behavior, bracketed by time frames and carried out with rituals. Throughout history people have found ways to be “in mourning” for the loss of those they love. But in our time and place, we’ve lost most of those customs – we no longer wear black for months or sit all night with the body of the departed, we don’t wear arm bands or exempt people from social obligations for certain lengths of time. In fact, when great loss comes, most of us don’t know how to mourn.
How long are we allowed to walk around crying before we should pull ourselves together? (Are we ever allowed to walk around crying?)
How much grief should we be leaking out onto others, and what should we politely keep to ourselves?
What things will people deem worthy of true grief and what makes us seem silly or weak?
So we often keep our sadness pent up inside and private. Whatever rules there used be that shaped a space for it, these days there is very little to guide us. We get a funeral, a visitation, some meals from friends and cards from coworkers and distance from acquaintances. And then things move on.
Our sadness and grief is ours to do with what we will.
But there’s a difference between sadness and mourning – sadness is a feeling, you can sit stagnant in sadness- you might have a shot at keeping sadness kind of in check. You might be able to be sad and still fake it.
But mourning is an action. Mourning is grief in motion, sorrow exposed, emitted and shared. Mourning is sadness made verb.
There is no decently and in order way to mourn.
Mourning is a surrendering of control. It’s like the first step in AA – admitting you are powerless. Mourning takes you down. All the defenses crumble and you feel everything fully, raw and painful. And instead of faking it, mourning is actively living in how not fine things are.
Blessed are you when your sadness is active and your grief is entered into and lived out. You are the ones who will be comforted.
And so we hear for the second time inside these beatitudes, blessed are the real.
Blessed are we when we live the way we’re wired to live.
When we cry when we’re sad and laugh when we’re happy and hold one another up when we’re falling, and lean on others when we’re weak.
Mourning is an essential part of being human, and to live fully we need to mourn, just as we need to celebrate and we need to sleep and we need to eat.
Christ is among us as one who bears all suffering in himself, the one who walks alongside us holding us up in our suffering. The way we experience this is the strong arms and backs of others. When we walk alongside one another and offer our strength to them in our suffering – it is there that we encounter Godwithus. And when we fall down in gut-wrenching loss and devastating grief and others lift us up and carry us on - it is there that we encounter Godwithus.
Jesus did not say blessed are those who mourn for they will find inner strength to triumph over their circumstances, or blessed are those who mourn for they will be delivered from the things that are causing them grief.
No, he said blessed are those who mourn for they will be joined in their grief and their circumstances. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be given the strength of others to carry them through.
Here we sit again in Epiphany, the season where Jesus is revealed, Godwithus is made known and God’s purposes are disclosed in this One who came to share life with us, who calls the whole world to share life with each other. Here we sit again in the presence of the One who enters in.
And, tonight we are told, in on this miracle are those buckling in grief, for they will be held in others’ strength. They will be joined by God.
The kingdom of God – life as God means for it to be shared- is a not strong independence, and it is not escape out of pain. Life as God means for it to be shared is dependence on God and on each other. We belong to each other and we belong to God. The whole world. Everyone in it. We are not meant to be in this alone. When we mourn, we remember that; we discover it again.
And when we mourn, we are speaking for the kingdom of God, because mourning is always about the loss of something that is essential to the life of God – love, belonging, hope. When we grieve over what isn’t or what was and is now lost, we uphold the promise of what will be. Mourning honors and cherishes life. It reminds us what we were made to share in.
I am with you. And one place you will especially know this, is when you mourn.
If you want to see Jesus, to share in the kingdom of God here and now- if you want to be part of life as God means it to be, unfolding right before us and between us, be with someone who is mourning, let yourself mourn. And you will be comforted.
Next weekend I get to go be with my sister’s family. I get to be alongside my sister and her husband and join them where they are.
I get to be in the presence of the blessed.
Whatever that looks like and whatever unfolds, that is where I know God is.
Part One of our Beatitude series, "The First Word" explores "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit..."
We lit candles for those for whom, or alongside whom, we mourn.
Our prayers tonight lifted up the names and situations we mourn, and the gratitude we have for those who share our burdens.