Not one of my favorite Beatitudes because it speaks of pain. Heartbreak. Heartache. Tears. Sorrow.
I don’t like to think about sad things or dwell on the hurts of the past. Most of us don’t want to remember the times our heart has been broken by someone who betrayed our trust or criticized our good intentions. Like many of you, I don’t want to be haunted by memories of those who used to be an important part of my life and are no longer.
But the reality is that sorrow—and reasons for sorrow—will continue to be part of our daily life experience until Jesus comes again. Death. Injustice. Hatred. Bullying. Wrong-doing. These will not end until the Kingdom of God (in all its completeness) reigns once again.
Psychiatry defines mourning as the “reaction to a loss of something one has loved—a significant or important person, object, role, status, or anything considered part of one’s life”. How we express ourselves when we are mourning is as varied as our personalities and hair color! In some cultures, a prolonged period of weeping (even wailing) is considered appropriate. Others throw a celebrative feast because a loved one is no longer in pain or incapacitated but is now free to move around the spirit world. Some cultures and faiths wear dark somber colors for a prescribed number of days or weeks. Others wear their brightest and best to rejoice for the life they have been privileged to share.
As I dug a little deeper into this less-than-likeable Beatitude, I discovered something I had not thought about before, and yet, it makes perfect sense! There is a difference between “grief” and “mourning”.
Grief or Mourning?
Grief refers to our thoughts and feelings on the inside. After the loss of a loved one, our initial PRIVATE response is grief. We hurt, feel broken, deserted, on an uneven keel. We feel bereaved, which literally means “torn apart.” Our life has been upended, our world turned on its ear. We are off-balance, uncertain. We feel alone and even afraid.
Mourning actually comes after grief. Mourning is the shared, SOCIAL response to loss. It is “grief gone public”, one author wrote. Mourning takes our internal grief and externalizes it in the form of an action, symbol, ceremony, a ritual that activates and invites SOCIAL support. Mourning allows others to share the grief process. It invites comfort, encourages involvement, enables us to recognize that we are not alone in our pain.
When we are absorbed in grief, it is difficult to find our way out of the pit. We cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many times, we are even oblivious to God’s presence and promises.
It is in the process of mourning (allowing others to share the burden of our grief) that we can find comfort and strength to go on. Those who know us best are able to speak to our pain in ways that we cannot speak to our own grief.
Many of us discovered the difference between the solitary nature of grief and the comfort of mourning during Covid-time because we were isolated from one another and had to face so many “losses” alone. We desperately missed, longed for and needed the shared hugs and memories, the hand to hold and shoulder to cry on, the comforting words and presence of our loved ones and friends. We needed the sense of “community” to sustain us.
The promise of God in the Old Testament is the same as that given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount—there IS comfort to be found in mourning. The prophet Jeremiah records these words of God: I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.2 King David himself declares this truth: In His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.3
The promise in this morning’s Scripture (Revelation 21:1-4) is simply this: we are never alone in our grief and times of sorrow. As John wrote—
Look! 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.4
The whole meaning of Emmanuel is wrapped up in the simple four-letter word—WITH. Emmanuel means “God with us”. It means we are not alone ever again because God has come to earth.
Jesus gave a similar promise to His followers on the night He was betrayed. As His disciples struggled with the idea of the Master leaving them alone, bereft and dependent upon what they could remember of His teachings, Jesus promised I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you.5
Blessed are the mourners
If grief is indeed a solitary experience of loss, and mourning is the community expression of grief, then the promise of this second Beatitude makes a lot more sense. While we may be physically alone in our time of sorrow, spiritually we are in the communal presence of God’s Holy Spirit. In the depths of our pain, God understands. In the struggle for hope, God is there whispering in our hearts His strength and promise. When we feel torn apart by loss, the Creator who made us—who knit us together in our mother’s womb5—is there with us to make us whole again.
The promise of Emmanuel is that God is with us, now and forever. John cements that fact in Scripture: Look! 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.3
God is here. Now. WITH us. Forever. He promised His presence and His Comforter to be with us as well. That makes this second Beatitude less scary—indeed, even a blessing.