Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Frederick Buechner once wrote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” There is perhaps no better summary of the beatitudes than this. Jesus is in essence reminding his disciples that life will not be easy, but they should never fear because God is with them. So after pointing to the poor, both in reality and in spirit, Jesus turns to the next most visible group of the suffering: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. As someone who has experienced a lot of grief – losing two fathers, almost losing my mother three times before finally losing her last year, four grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles, almost losing my little brother, losing five dogs, a goldfish (for whom I did my first funeral, I might add), and countless other friends and family – I can say with the utmost sincerity, this is not what someone wants to hear when they are in the throes of grief. Jesus is in essence saying – you are a lucky one when you are grieving. To which anyone who has experienced a significant loss in their life (and is still feeling raw about it) will reply – “yeah… right. Where’s the bourbon again?” It is incredibly difficult to believe that things will ever get better when your heart has been ripped from your chest. But, despite sarcastic tendencies through our tears, Jesus is right.
As with his first saying – blessed are the poor in spirit – this saying is also revolutionary in nature. In the ancient world and the modern one, none of us like mourning. We want to sweep death under the rug, forget about what has happened so that we don’t have to feel the pain, and keep ourselves as far removed from those who are grieving. As one scholar has said, “we want our jovial plot line back.” Death is way too harsh of a reality for a world where there is a fix for almost everything. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our midst.
Any mourner will tell you, there are times when to stop grieving would mean to forget. Wounds can only become scars over time: with love, with processing, and with appropriate psychotherapy. The hurts will eventually lose their raw feeling, but we know that the hurt will never truly disappear. As one writer put so succinctly, “Grief is an existential testimony that one was worth loving.” And those who love – they are at the very heart of God.
We, who have known loss, have the opportunity to become, what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers.” There are some things that cannot be explained, no matter how eloquent the language one uses. Some truths can only be understood through the crystaline vision of our tears. Once we have felt this pain, and have felt some form of comforting presence in whatever form it comes, our eyes, and ears, and hearts open to what is really happening around us.
The world is broken, hurting, and wounded. People are suffering. Children are hungry. Humans deny one another basic human needs. And the winds and rains of a creation in turmoil batter the proud and the humble alike. The world is falling apart. We keep trying to fix it with band-aids; but only God can perform the surgery necessary to transform all those wounds into scars of hope.
For many of us, especially those who have been born into the privilege and comforts of the world, it takes a death or similarly significant event in our lives to open us up to the pain in our midst. These are the first things that break our hearts. They create cracks and wounds through which God quietly enters in and stirs within us a new form of vision. Those who mourn are blessed because though we were once blind to the real world of death, our eyes are opened by God’s presence at work within us.
We must never forget that mourning is not the opposite of “effective action.” We become the blessed mourners when we can move beyond our own wounds to see the wounds of the world – to grieve over injustice, to engage those who bring hatred, to dream of the wondrous hope that will one day be reality in the kingdom of heaven. Comfort comes in God’s presence that presses us into action. This day let us be grateful that God has been with us, always, through the first things that allowed us to feel Christ’s presence, and even through today when the Holy Spirit breathes new life into our oldest wounds so that like Christ our scars can become testimony to the world – that there is hope, that there is light in darkness, and that there is indeed life after death.