Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (NIV) “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (The Message Matthew 5:4)
How can mourning be blessed and what form does comfort take?
Mourning takes several forms. When we mourn over our own losses we grieve. When we mourn over the losses of others we exercise compassion – we suffer with them. When we mourn over letting down God or others whom we love or long to please, we experience contrition.
Mourning is the sorrow that leads to tears. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35) He wept for the loss of his friend. He wept for the lack of belief he saw around him. He wept at the complaint on their lips. He wept at the pain of separation caused by death.
The Bible has two books devoted to mourning. One is the book of Lamentations, written in response to the loss of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. It is an extensive treatment of the experience of suffering and communal pain on a scale seldom endured by many individuals or nations. The book of Job deals with personal and family suffering. Both bear close study, for the subject of suffering needs more time than I have this morning.
What causes you to weep, or mourn or experience sorrow and sadness? It may be the pain of seeing loved ones go through very difficult times. It may be the sadness of disappointed hopes for oneself or others dear to you. It may be the experience of losing control, of letting go, and feeling diminished by it. It may be the accumulation of too much stress that causes the onset of depression. It may be the shock of bad news. It may be the realization that you have blown it, that you have said or done the wrong thing, and you feel so bad about it. You feel guilty and you mourn.
After his wife died, C.S. Lewis, wrote “A Grief Observed” in which he struggled with the depth of his grief. Samuel Johnson suffered from, what one writer called “morbid melancholy”. “He seems to have lived with a perpetual conviction that his conduct was defective; lamenting past neglects, forming purposes of future diligence, and constantly acknowledging their failure in the event.”
Jesus said that such feelings are blessed. It is entirely natural that we should mourn, feel sad, sorrow, or be depressed. These feelings are to be welcomed and not resisted. They indicate the depth of our love and concern. All too often our culture wants to eliminate these feelings. It is often not acceptable for people to mourn. We are expected to get over our loss and carry on with our lives as though something important has not happened to us. The mourning process is cut short prematurely and our friends want us to be cheerful again.
This was the approach of Job’s comforters. Zophar told Job that suffering is only momentary for the righteous: “You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as the waters gone by. Life will be brighter than the noonday, and the darkness will become like morning.” (Job 11:16,17) That is no comfort at all.
Mourning, sorrow, sadness, pain may bless us through putting us in touch with what is important to us. It may signal to us that we need to alter our lives.
Jeffery Smith in Where the Roots Reach for Water: A Personal & Natural History of Melancholia, writes about his exploration of clinical depression which was not alleviated by pschytropic drugs. He claims that ours is the Age of Anti-Depression. “In spite of all available evidence, modern-day Americans keep trying to convince ourselves that happiness is the natural state of our species.” (p.112) Psychologist James Hillman defines depression as “hidden knowledge”. The experience of sorrow gives us the opportunity to explore what is happening in our lives – to explore what God is saying to us in our pain. To just deal with the symptoms is not going to give us the comfort Jesus talks about. We need to understand its roots, the source from which it flows, and discover what God is doing in our lives.
In his therapy Smith read the following poem by Rilke.
“That my streaming countenance make me more radiant.
That the hidden weeping should then bloom.
How you will be dear to me then, oh nights of despair…
We who squander our sorrows.
How we look beyond them into the mournful passage of time
To see whether they might end.
But they are seasons of us, our winter –
Abiding leafage, meadows, ponds, landscapes we are born into,
Inhabited by birds and creatures in the reeds.”
The saints who describe the Dark Night of the Soul, see it as a necessary stage in their appreciation of the presence of God. They have to experience the absence of God and come to the end of themselves before they can receive the forgiveness and grace offered through Christ. Our realization of our guilt, our failure, our worthlessness, our anger at God and the world, brings us to the point of our need of forgiveness.
We will be comforted when we let the mourning take us into the heart of God. We come to the end of our self-absorption, and dethrone the kingdom of Self to restore our soul.
Oswald Chambers, who ministered to war-sick soldiers returning to Cairo, Egypt from the debacle of the murderous Gallipoli campaign in 1916 wrote: “No man is the same after an agony. He is either better or worse, and the agony of a man’s experience is nearly always the first thing that opens his mind to understand the need of Redemption worked out by Jesus Christ.”
The Psalmist writes:
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5,6)
The Word of God assures us that mourning will not be forever. It is a stage through which we must pass in order to receive comfort. It helps us to understand the sorrow of God, how He mourns for his creation, and how he suffers for and in us. No one put it more eloquently than Studdert Kennedy, a chaplain in World War I, known as Woodbine Willie. His famous poem is entitled, The Suffering God.
If He could speak, that victim torn and bleeding,
Caught in His pain and nailed upon the Cross,
Has He to give the comfort souls are needing?
Could He destroy the bitterness of loss?
Once and for all men say He came and bore it,
Once and for all set up His throne on high,
Conquered the world and set His standard o’er it,
Dying that once that men might never die.
Yet men are dying, dying soul and body,
Cursing the God who gave to them their birth,
Sick of the world with all its sham and shoddy,
Sick of the lies that darken all the earth.
Peace we were pledged, yet blood is ever flowing,
Where on earth has Peace been ever found?
Men do but reap the harvest of their sowing,
Sadly the songs of human reapers sound.
Sad as the winds that sweep across the ocean,
Telling to earth the sorrow of the sea.
Vain is my strife, just empty idle motion,
All that has been is all there is to be.
So on the earth the time waves beat in thunder,
Bearing wrecked hopes upon their heaving breasts,
Bits of dead dreams, and true hearts torn asunder,
Flecked with red foam upon their crimson crests.
How can it be that God can reign in glory,
Calmly content with what His Love has done,
Reading unmoved the piteous shameful story,
All the vile deeds men do beneath the sun?
Are there no tears in the heart of the Eternal?
Is there no pain to pierce the soul of God?
Then must He be a fiend of Hell infernal,
Beating the earth to pieces with His rod.
Or is it just that there is nought behind it,
Nothing but forces purposeless and blind?
Is the last thing, if mortal man could find it,
Only a power wand’ring as the wind?
Father, if He, the Christ, were Thy Revealer,
Truly the First Begotten of the Lord,
Then must Thou be a Suff’rer and a Healer,
Pierced to the heart by the sorrow of the sword.
Then must it mean, not only that Thy sorrow
Smote Thee that once upon the lonely tree,
But that today, to-night, and on the morrow,
Still it will come, O Gallant God, to Thee.
Red with His blood the better day is dawning,
Pierced by His pain the storm clouds roll apart,
Rings o’er the earth the message of the morning,
Still on the Cross the Saviour bares his heart.
Passionately fierce the voice of God is pleading,
Pleading with men to arm them for the fight,
See how those hands, majestically bleeding,
Calls us to rout the armies of the night.
Not to the work of sordid selfish saving
Of our own souls to dwell with Him on high,
But to the soldier’s splendid selfless braving,
Eager to fight for Righteousness and die.
Peace does not mean the end of all our striving,
Joy does not mean the drying of our tears,
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving,
Up to the light where God Himself appears.
Joy is the wine that God is ever pouring
Into the hearts of those who strive with Him,
Light’ning their eyes to vision and adoring,
Strength’ning their arms to warfare glad and grim.
So would I live and not in idle resting,
Stupid as swine that wallow in the mire,
Fain would I fight, and be for ever breasting,
Danger and death for ever under fire.
Bread of Thy Body give me for my fighting,
Give me to drink The Sacred Blood for wine,
While there are wrongs that need me for the righting,
While there is warfare splendid and divine.
Give me, for light, the sunshine of Thy sorrow,
Give me for shelter shadow of Thy Cross,
Give me to share the glory of Thy morrow,
Gone from my heart the bitterness of Loss.