Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.-Matthew 5:4
Near the end of her life, I visited my grandmother in the hospital. I still picture her diminished state, that small body in such a big hospital bed. We talked about her life. Although she was in her mid-80’s, what she wanted to talk about was her son who died when he was five years old, when she was a young mother. She didn’t talk about the other three sons she raised so well, their vibrant lives. In her closing days, she remembered that particular loss. I realized that she had been in mourning over all those decades. It explained for me a bit of the sweet sadness I always saw in her eyes.
When I watched the 9/11 memorial service last week in lower Manhattan, and felt the heaviness of heart in recollection of my time in New York in those days, I listened to several thousand names being read, interrupted by brief tributes from relatives. Again and again, those relatives spoke of their lost loved ones and said, after 20 years: “We think about you every day.”
I suspect there are few who do not know what it means to mourn. We all know what it means to suffer loss. It’s a pain widely experienced, one that lingers. In his sermon, Jesus promises comfort. It’s a fitting follow-up to the promise of blessing for those who are poor in spirit, because mourning is really a matter of addressing a hole left by loss. It may defy understanding, but in the midst of it, Jesus promises blessed comfort.
What kind of comfort did he have in mind? Perhaps it was the comfort St. Paul speaks about at the beginning of a letter to the Corinthian church (See excerpt above). The psalmist speaks of the God who is present as refuge and strength. A favorite hymn speaks of Jesus who is all compassion, which literally means suffering along side. God, the Holy Spirit, is also described as the comforter, the one who comes along side. There is a promise of holy comfort, which is a blessing.
And God places us in community so that we can be present to comfort each other, so that as St. Paul says, we may comfort those around us with the comfort we have come to know in God’s gracious presence. Many times, when I’m trying to offer comfort to someone, I recall what was helpful to me when I was comforted. We pass it on. As we know comfort, we show comfort.
And the mourning Jesus focuses on may not simply be about the losses we feel in our own lives. It may also be about the losses that surround us, mourning for the state of the world, feeling its pain, the pain of refugees and asylum seekers, of victims of COVID, of those who care for them, the pain of victims of hurricanes and earthquakes, the pain of those subjected to racial hatred.
Where have you experienced mourning? Maybe you’re in the thick of that valley right now. How will you navigate that this week? How can you invite God, the holy comforter into that experience?
And then take a look around. Who do you know who carries such a weight? Can you be an instrument of blessedness that offers comfort? If you’re not sure how to do that, ask God to show you the way. It’s something disciples are called to do. And while you’re at it, say a prayer for those folks.
It will be a blessing. You will be a blessing.
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