Summary: We can't understand how incredible the comfort of God is unless we accept our pain and mourn it.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Matt 5:4 March 20, 2011
Today, the second Sunday of Lent, our journey through the teachings of Jesus commonly called the “beatitudes”, brings us smack into the middle of a rather difficult teaching: “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The concept of mourning is appropriate for the season of Lent, in which we prepare ourselves to come again to the cross and then the empty tomb – to walk again through deep grief and shock at the torture and execution of the God of the Universe for us, and then into the victory over sin and death that we celebrate on resurrection morning. In our celebration of Easter as a church, we work hard to not fast-forward past the ugliness of the cross to get to the empty tomb. We work hard to not portray an idea of cheap grace, of a salvation that came at little cost, as if our sin does not really matter all that much anymore. And on the flip-side, we work hard to really try to capture the joy of that resurrection morning, to truly celebrate the power and victory and resulting hope for now and for eternity that we now have because Jesus conquered sin and death, and to not stay wallowing in sin and despair at the cross but rather step into new life and power that we know at the empty tomb.
It is my conviction that we can’t understand how incredible the empty tomb is unless we have some idea how devastating the cross is. And, in the same manner, it is my conviction that we can’t understand how incredible the comfort of God is unless we accept our pain and mourn it.
“Blessed are those who mourn”… really?
In the beatitudes we have Jesus’ portrayal of the lives of those characterized by citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Last week we looked at the first, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Jesus continues from there and says, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What is He really saying? We are going to have to dig a little bit together. We are going to have to work hard – with our minds and also with our hearts – to really allow the Holy Spirit to bring the kind of life He wants for us, because it is a challenging teaching.
We are going to dive into this with our minds more deeply after our time of prayer and worship, but we want to create some space to do some heart and spirit work first. We have to mourn things that are far out of our control, such as the losses we experience in seasons of grief, or the things we see on the news such as we see in Japan. These areas of grief are not caused by us, but they affect us nonetheless. And the appropriate response to those is to mourn over them, and as we do we experience the promise of Jesus that those who mourn “will be comforted”. Pastor Sue has chosen some songs and prayers, and crafted some spaces of silence, to lead us through this particular type of mourning. But just before we experience that, I want to make one suggestion/ask one question, for you to think about as we create that space.
Is the experience of comfort through pain better than to live without pain?
One of the great things about the beatitudes is that Jesus gives us a reason, and this one is clear: “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Those who mourn are blessed because “they will be comforted”. There is a similarity here with what we saw last week, that when we admit our poverty of spirit, our need for God, then we receive God’s amazing gift. Same idea here – when we accept and embrace our pain and loss, we are open to receiving the comfort of God.
Now, let’s talk about this comfort. We are tempted to see it as a minor thing – a small hug, a casserole, a compassionate ear, a shoulder to cry on – and while those are welcome and appreciated, we generally see them as somewhat small because they don’t solve the problem that caused the pain. Are you with me? When we offer comfort, most of us do so feeling somewhat inadequate, wishing there was “something more we could do” that would really help, that would actually make a difference, that would tangibly “fix” the problem and make the pain disappear. Sometimes we even wish we could take the place of another and take their pain for them. I know I often feel that way, sure I’ll visit at the hospital, say a prayer, bring a smile, read some Scripture, but I walk out the door feeling like I really didn’t do much except maybe bring a bit of comfort.