Blessed are those who mourn

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Jesus promises “blessed are those who mourn” but what does that mean? This talk looks at this beatitude.

At Christ Church our current sermon series is on the Beatitudes. We are following the book Living differently to make a difference by Will Donaldson, which was helpful when preparing this sermon.

Mourning; Readings: Psalm 23; Matthew 5:4

We’re a couple of weeks into our sermon series on the Beatitudes. Those encouragements to live differently to make a difference. And we’ve reached this one “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Blessed are those who mourn. Well, the good news at the moment, I guess, is that almost certainly includes all of us. I’m reasonably confident that most, if not all of, us are mourning at the moment. Some of us will be mourning friends and family who have died recently, whether or not that’s from covid. At least most of us are probably mourning things that we’re not able to do at the moment. We’ll have missed events and celebrations, family gatherings, clubs, hobbies, and groups.

And of course, most of the things that we’d normally be doing as a church. The latest restrictions have probably underlined those feelings as well.

Many of us will also be mourning people who died longer ago. Time dulls the pain, but often doesn’t really take it away, does it? And Jesus would have known this for himself. By the time that he spoke these words his step-dad, Joseph, has died. Given child mortality levels at the time, it is more likely than not that at least one of his brothers or sisters had died as well.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t say ‘blessed are those who are comforted, for they will not mourn.’ Unfortunately, God doesn’t promise that bad things won’t happen to good people. Psalm 23 doesn’t say ‘I will fear no evil for you will walk me around the valley of the shadow of death’. Instead Psalm 23 does say:

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me

God promises that we will be comforted in the midst of our problems and struggles. He doesn’t promise that bad things won’t happen. And, equally, God doesn’t cause our problems and our pain. In Romans [8:28] we’re told that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. There is no situation so bad that God cannot bring good out of it. Look at the crucifixion. But that isn’t the same as saying God causes the bad things in the first place.

None of those cries of “it’s character building!” that you may have heard as a child, as you were dragged along a beach in the pouring rain, or made to do something else you really didn’t want to do. Possibly involving cleaning. That isn’t God’s parenting style.

The Psalms [56:8] talk about God recording all our tears. We have a God who cares, who is concerned about us, who notices when we mourn. We’re not offered short-cuts or easy ways out. Instead we take the path through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that God is with us. We mourn and we are comforted.

We are comforted, and so we can comfort others. We experience something of God’s comfort through someone’s actions or words, through God’s creation, or through God’s own actions. And we can ask God for him to help show us who we can offer comfort to, and how we can do that.

But, also, there are some things that we need to be spending more time mourning. We need to be mourning over the things that God mourns about. We need to have our hearts broken by the things that break God’s heart. How is it right that people in this country, one of the richest in the world, have people going hungry? How is it right that people around the world are dying due to climate change, preventable diseases, and poverty? How is it right that people are still in slavery, in this country and around the world?

It isn’t of course. God tells us repeatedly to care for those who are less well off than we are and to care for his creation. So, blessed are those who mourn when bad things happen to them, for they shall be comforted. But also, blessed are those who mourn, like Jesus did, at the wrong that is happening to other people. And that mourning helps us love with God’s love and opens us to seek to act in God’s power.

As we mourn, as our hearts are broken by those things, then we are more likely to act. To act in the power of God’s spirit, to act so that something more of God’s kingdom breaks in. To act so that people are comforted by what we say and what we do. With the small, difficult things, such as talking to someone about their loved one who recently died. With the large, difficult things such as making our difference to poverty, injustice, and climate change. We can do that through what we buy and how we spend our money. Through how we vote and what charities we support. We can mourn and seek to comfort others.

One of the things that this year has shown us is how much we rely on other people. We’ve stood outside and applauded NHS workers and all those caring for us. We’ve realised the importance of delivery drivers and warehouse workers. We’ve recognised that things that happen in other parts of the world have a direct effect on us.

I’m reminded of that poem by John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The bell tolls, so let us mourn, and seek to comfort, and to be comforted.

At the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 21[:3-4] we are promised that this will happen:

God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

We are promised that God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes, that we will, finally, be fully comforted. That’s what we have to look forward to.

So as we mourn and seek to be comforted; as we mourn and seek to be the comfort for other people, let us ask God for this blessing. Not only that we will be comfort and comforted, but also that we will mourn over the same things as God. And that as we do so, God will help us act so that we too can wipe away tears from people’s eyes, even as our tears are wiped away too. Amen.

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