“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Matthew 5:4
Normally when we think of mourning, we associate it with death; the death of something or someone we have loved. For me, last year was a year red-letter year for bereavement – my mom, my cousin Donna, my uncle Jack, friends and mentors from church all passed from this life. Not only these personal losses, but it was also a grief-filled year of corporate sorrow that marked many changes in so many ways. Loss, whatever it may be, is a turning point, a moment of demarcation, a moment where we realize life will never, ever be the same again, and mourning it is how we confront the changes that are inevitable. Noted grief councilor and therapist, Dr. Alan Wolfelt describes mourning like this: “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside, and mourning is when you express that grief outside of yourself. Mourning is grief inside out…mourning is how you move toward hope and healing.” Ultimately the goal is healing, which is a form of restoration, and hope for the future.
While I have no doubt that God is near the broken-hearted (scripture tells us this is true in Psalm 34:18), and he certainly is a comfort to us during difficult times, I have to wonder if is there more to it than simply seeking comfort for a loss . When Christ uttered “blessed are are those who mourn,” I can’t help but suspect that he meant it for something spiritual as well as corporeal. Mourning is bigger than a mere longing for something we have lost – think Adam, Eve and the fall from grace, or bigger yet, think Christ hanging on a Roman torture device for the sake of all. When we mourn, we are yearning for what was and no longer is, and it gives us an opportunity for reflection, recalibration. If forces us to confront the part of ourselves that has become disconnected, to work through the changes we are facing because of the loss. When you stop and really think about it, mourning is a prerequisite to repentance. We must weep for our loss, mourn it first. We can’t really atone for something, unless we first grieve for it, and our grieving cannot end, until we understand our sorrow. It humbles us, puts us in that raw space from which only God’s comfort and guidance can redeem. In this sense, our mourning is a sorrow which flows out in tears, a sadness that cleanses and restores, a grieving over sin itself and the stain which it has left upon the soul.
It’s interesting how Webster’s defines the words blessed, mourn and comfort. To be blessed is to be fortunate, happy, or envied. To mourn is to lament, to feel or express guilt or sorrow. To be comforted is to be given strength and hope, to be called near, or invited in. So Matthew 5:4 could be said like this: Happy and fortunate, envied are those who lament or express feelings of guilt or sorrow, for they will be called near, invited in and given strength and hope. God promises us that if we express our feelings of loss, of guilt and sorrow, repenting of them, He will bless us by calling us near [to Him] and inviting us in [to His presence] and give us strength and hope.
Jesus tells us that in order to live, we must die; die to ourselves, to this world, to sin (Luke 9:23-24). It is through death that resurrection and renewal come. We are blessed when we mourn, because our grieving is our opportunity to honestly and openly confront ourselves head-on, to assess, recalibrate, renew. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a way of life, or our connection to God himself, lamenting our losses is cathartic in more ways than we realize.