Mourning Well

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That’s the consolation Matthew 5:4 offers to the grieved. As we look at the blessing of mourning, allow me to frame this examination in the form of a compound question: are you a happy mourner, or are you mourning happiness? That may appear to be an odd question. How can a mourner be happy, and why would anyone mourn happiness?

Well, that depends on your definition of happiness. In this life there are generally two types of mourners, and as late nineteenth century American Paul Laurence Dunbar captures it, the one type, puts on a face “that grins and lies, hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” (“We Wear the Mark”).

It is this ungodly mourner who vainly lives never to expose personal grief–not even to him or herself if this denier can help it. These mourners deny a life of emptiness, but will not own up to their sin, nor will they look to Christ who is the only true source of happiness. 

Their displaced grief comes because deep down inside they are holding the truth in unrighteousness; they are exchanging the truth for a lie, and while they go out to bleach their teeth, dye their hair, bronze their skin, and work out every tired muscle in their body for an idealized image that will some day end up in a box six feet under, if not reduced to the contents of a Ziploc bag, they mourn, but you will not likely not see their tears.

They mourn happiness–that is, their definition of happiness.

One of the most elusive things in the world is true happiness. It is so elusive that the world has to redefine it just so that it can pretend to have it. Judas Iscariot mourned in his self-pity and guilt, and instead of going to the One who could save him, he killed himself.

Cain in Genesis 4:13, mourned the judgment placed on him instead of grieving over his sin.

Is that not like our society today? It refuses to look at the idolatry of self-righteous works as anything to grieve over, but how it is quick to mourn the consequences of its own evil actions that befall it.

The mourning in Matthew 5:4 is decidedly different because the text is about a happy mourning, which then presents to us a bit of a paradox. How can you be a happy mourner?

The happy mourner can be the very one who mourns the physi-cal loss of another,  but realizes that the loss is eclipsed by the soul found in Christ. A happy mourner is also one who properly grieves over personal sins–a sorrow for the transgression with an eye to Christ.

Solomon understood this in his wise statement in Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind.”

But who wants to go to the house of mourning, when you can go to the party, when you can enlarge your territory, when you can discover health and wealth through positive innovation and personal gos-pel, and yet Solomon tells us there is something to be learned in the house of mourning, and that’s this: all men die.

Unless the Lord no longer tarries, you will all die. 

Dear friend, when you enter the house of mourning, you see death stare back at you as if to say your time will come, because your time will come, and likely the presence of your dead body will be a reminder for another soul in the funeral parlor that life on this side of God’s kingdom is short, that the days of one’s pilgrimage are numbered.

It is even a reminder that even some Christians would prefer to pass over–no, thank you–not for me. 

An old Reformed minister told me once as I was preparing for the ministry that when he was just starting out, his parishioners kept literally dying on him. He thought maybe it was his preach-ing that was killing them, but his consistory assured him that the congregation was just elderly.

Nonetheless, it seemed to him as though every two weeks he was performing a funeral service. He became very good friends with the local funeral director, and he asked the director once what was the most difficult aspect about his job. The director said, it was never the mourning that bothered him, but it was the denial of death that always got to him. He would spend hours upon hours making corpses look fresh, and this was done to the satisfaction of the bereaved, so that relatives could see death through an artificial lens, as if they could be convinced that the deceased was only sleeping.

God’s Word tells us that true mourning is a very real part of the life of the Christian. 

As the writer of Hebrews states,  “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Entering the house of mourning with a heart primed for convic-tion, points the soul to the second part of that Hebrew passage: “. . .so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (9:28)

The King is coming. Are you preparing for the bridegroom to come again? Are you living in preparation to meet your bride-groom? Or are you too busy in the house of feasting to bother? 

Listen to the words of Job: “Man wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten”  ( Job 13:28). What a simile! It’s not very flattering to humankind to be compared to a garment that is moth-eaten.

Job has a few more words for us to consider: “But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?” ( Job 14:10). “He will perish forever like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’” ( Job 20:7).

Years ago when I served as a ruling elder, one of the men died in my elder parish. I was asked to conduct the funeral since we were without a pastor at that time. I had not even started my first semester of seminary, so I was not feeling the most confi-dent. During the private family service prior to the more public funeral service, someone had asked me point blank,  “So where is he, preacher?” He was asking about the corpse. I said, “Well, he is in two places. One, we know by sight, another we know by faith. Physically, that is bodily, we know he is still out there in the main auditorium, but spiritually, we have a hearty trust, that he is in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Dear friend, if you were to die tomorrow, how would that latter question be answered of you? 

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by Go” (2 Cor.1).

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he talks about this mourning. 

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:13-18).

What an event that will be!  If we can take comfort from these words today, should one who really trusts in the promises of Christ ever mourn?

We look to our Lord for that answer in two words. From John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” He mourned the passing of his dear friend Lazarus, and the Jews responded, “See how he loved him!”

Proper mourning comes from the heart of one who loves an-other. Improper mourning comes from the heart of one who loves only oneself.

Jesus wept; He mourned. And so may we. In fact, it could be argued, if we do not properly mourn. then we have not properly loved.

The third chapter of 1 John, tells us: “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

How then can you love someone and not mourn his or her passing? When you are closely bound together in the unity of Jesus Christ, how then can you not grieve over the loss of your brother or sister?

Physical death comes because of sin, and we grieve as Chris-tians not just because of the physical consequence of sin, but also because we do the sinning and when our eyes are open we are penitent for that which we have done to grieve the Spirit. 

When we see what we have done that drove Christ to suffer on the cross, we grieve our sinful actions. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he was happy over the outcome of their grief. He writes: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. Therefore we are comforted” (2 Cor. 7:9-10;13).

What do the mourners receive beyond the tears? 

Let’s begin with the tangible–the means of grace. At the Lord’s Supper we have a table that is ordinary and is holding up ordi-nary bread and ordinary wine, but the simple feast presents an extraordinary message. 

This table is about comfort–the bread and the wine symbolizing the flesh and the blood of the one and only source of comfort in mourning:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

In this sacrament, we see, touch, smell, and taste the tangible signs of comfort.

We have these familiar words from Romans 5, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.  So as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The bread and wine are reminders that death has been con-quered, that sin has no more mastery over us, but that through the blood of the Lamb, that glorious work at the cross, we are a comforted people because grace reigns.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

One Christmas Eve my father passed away, and a year later, I compiled pictures and video footage of his life into a home movie to be given to my siblings for Christmas. My adopted daughters had never met him, but one of them remarked, “Grandpa was a good man,” and I asked, “How do you know?” And she answered, “Because Jesus Christ was in Him.” 

His funeral was a true celebration not because of the efforts of a husband, father, grandfather and long-standing ruling elder, but because of the graces given him and to all of us.

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

Beloved, we do not celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s SupPper mourning Jesus as if He is still suffering on the cross.  Properly grieve over your sins, yes, but do not grieve over Jesus. There are those who come to the table in the false church and do just that, but Jesus asked Mary Magdalene in John 20:15, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Her tears were true, but she was mourning the passing of her teacher and master and failing to realize that the One who asked her why she was weeping was her risen Lord and King.

Christ came into this world to live for us and to die for us. We know in the latter that he paid the penalty for sin, that He gave His life as a ransom for many, and in the former He lived for us by obeying the law in our place, by performing the perfect righteousness required by a holy God.

So we come to worship, to hear the Word proclaimed and we come to the table 

sober-minded, knowing that it was our sins that drove Him to the cross, but also knowing that Christ’s earthly work is complete, and that’s the comfort, dear friends–that’s the comfort.

Mourn over the loss of a dear one, mourn over your sins, but take comfort in knowing this from Romans 6:5: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

And with that comfort that you have been given, be a comfort to others. Become instruments of comfort to your brother and sister, and let the world around you see your radiating that comfort. 

For death has not sting and you are no longer in bondage to sin.

Hear these words to the Church at Corinth: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by Go” (2 Cor.1).
Beloved, happy are those who mourn, for it is the Spirit in them that compels them to mourn, and that same Spirit is known by another name in Scripture, and that name is Comforter.

Rev. Chuck Muether

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