“Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”

The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn
A Message on Matthew 5:4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 16, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 5:4 (NRSV)

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

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This past September I really missed my dad.

It was my birthday and it was one of the big ones, one of the ones that ends in “0.” That in itself kinda hurt as I realized, “I’m getting old!” But another thing that hurt was that I didn’t get a phone call from my dad.

Dad had a tradition that he followed every year. On my birthday, usually early in the morning (my Dad was always an “early riser”), the phone would ring and I would answer. Dad would be on the other end and, without saying “hello,” or “good morning,” or anything, would immediately launch into song:

In the boarding house I live in, Everything was growing old;
Silver threads among the butter, And the cheese was green with mold.”

I had never heard that song other than from my dad. I had know idea how he knew it, and I still don’t. After he died I looked it up on the internet and discovered that it is an Irish folk tune titled “Mrs. Crandall’s Boarding House.” My dad had a wide variety of musical tastes, but I don’t ever remember him being into Irish folk music. Weird.

But somehow or somewhere he not only heard that song, he also memorized the lyrics and the melody. And every year, early in the morning on September 3, he would sing it to me and wish me a happy birthday.

I miss my dad. He died Feb. 17, 2018, but I still mourn for him. I still miss him. It still hurts. I think it always will.

Today I want to explore the topic of grief and mourning as we continue our journey through the beatitudes by looking at the second beatitude that Jesus gave: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

As we discussed last week, the term “beatitude” comes from the Latin word for “blessed,” “happy,” or even “rich.” Found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the beatitudes are a group of teachings that Jesus told his followers. Last week we explored what it means to be “poor in spirit,” and this week we turn our attention to “those who mourn.”

Like most of the beatitudes the words of Jesus seem to be opposite of what we expect. How in the world can someone be blessed, happy, or even rich when they mourn? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

But in the upside down and backwards world of being a follower of Christ we find it to be the case.

To mourn means to have sorrow or hurt for the loss of someone or something. Mourning is one of the emotions we have as humans, and unless you are very young, everyone experiences it.

Let’s be honest here: mourning is not a pleasant experience. It hurts, not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.

As a pastor not only do I mourn personally, but I also have a front row seat to witnessing mourning pretty regularly. As I look out over your faces I see so many of you who have lost loved ones and who have mourned and are still mourning. As a pastor it’s challenging to mourn with you and yet not mourn to the point where I am incapable of doing ministry. And I can assure you, that is a difficult thing to do.

Why is mourning so painful? I believe the answer to that question is love. It sounds weird, but hear me out. We mourn because we love.

Think about it. When someone passes away we miss them because we love them. If we didn’t love anyone, we would never mourn. Someone could pass away and, because we didn’t love, our response would be something like, “So what”?

So our grief, our mourning, our sorrow, is proportionate to how much we love. If we love a lot, we mourn a lot. If we don’t love much (or, heaven forbid, none at all), then we don’t mourn much.

Mourning is painful. It really hurts. So why in the world does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”? That doesn’t seem to make sense.

I think it is because even in our grief, in those moments when we mourn so much that we have no more tears, when the pain seems unbearable, in those depths of darkness God provides us with a tiny sliver of light, a miniscule bit of comfort in our faith.

Now it may not be a whole bunch of comfort, but it is just enough to remind us of the hope we have through our faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1961 a book was published titled A Grief Observed. To me it is one of the best books on grief and I highly recommend it. The author was listed as N.W. Clerk, and the book chronicled his struggle through the illness and death of his wife to cancer.

What wasn’t known at the time was that N.W. Clerk was a pseudonym. The book was actually written by C.S. Lewis, who is famous even in our time for writing The Chronicles of Narnia.

C.S. married Helen Joy Davidman when he was in his 60s and she was in her 40s. At first they married so that Joy, who was American, could stay in England. Though they were friends, it was a marriage for immigration purposes. They even lived in separate houses. But then in 1957 came Joy’s diagnosis of cancer. C.S. and Joy were married in the hospital, and began living as man and wife.

Joy’s cancer went into remission, and the two passionately fell in love. For three joyful, wonderful years they lived life to the fullest with each other. And then suddenly Joy’s cancer returned and this time the doctors couldn’t stop it. She died in 1960.

In his grief, Lewis wrote this: “The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

In another book, titled The Problem of Pain, he points out the important role that faith plays in pain. I believe it is applicable to mourning as well.

“…when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

The reason “the least tincture of the love of God” helps is because it is in our pain, in our mourning, that we realize our need for God. Similar to being poor in spirit like we talked about last week, grief can bring us to our knees and to the point where we realize that we can’t do this on our own, but that we need God. We need a savior.

Now it’s important to remember that our savior, Jesus, knows about the pain of grief. He knows how much it hurts to mourn.

In the 11th chapter of John we find Jesus being told that his good friend Lazarus became ill and died. The Bible records Jesus’ response as the shortest verse in the Bible, consisting of only two words: “Jesus wept.”

Although that verse is only two words, they are very important words. Jesus responded that way all of us respond to grief: he cried.

Jesus was/is fully God and fully human. This means he has experienced all the emotions that we ourselves experience, including grief.

God is not some existentially-distanced deity observing humanity from afar, but through Jesus Christ God himself came to earth, walked among us, and experienced everything we experience, including every emotion. Jesus was like us. Jesus wept, because Jesus grieved. Jesus mourned.

And yet Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we mourn because we will be comforted. How can that be true?

I think one way we can find comfort is in the scriptures. It is through the words of God revealed in scripture that we realize that while death may separate us from our loved ones, for those that believe in Jesus Christ that separation is only temporary.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection not only provides a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to God, but it provides victory over death itself.

Too often we quote John 3:16 without realizing the full extent of the meaning of the words. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t mourn at all. And it doesn’t mean that it will make the pain go away. But these words do give us hope for the future, knowing that no matter what happens in this world, even when those we love die, we can be comforted by knowing that death is not the end.

The Apostle Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Jesus is our comfort when we mourn. We are comforted not by what we ourselves can do, but what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus has defeated death.

So my challenge for you is to remember that Jesus promised that when we mourn we will be comforted. We will still hurt, we will still feel the pain of loss, but within that pain and hurt will be hope. We will still miss our loved ones, but we know that one day we will be reunited with those in a place where there is no more pain and no more sorrow.

And when that happens for me personally, I intend to ask my dad where he learned that silly Irish folk song.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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