Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5.4).
Over the last several weeks, this verse has taken hold of me for reasons I don't fully understand. Maybe it's because I've participated in two funerals in the last week, and at both funerals we celebrated and mourned simultaneously. I am part of a community that shows up at funerals. We hurt when someone we know dies, and we experience the loss viscerally. We mourn- not in an overly pious kind of way- but in an authentically human way. We pray. We argue with God. We cry. We hurt. We sing. We reread the promises of God in the hopes that we might newly experience them as we read them. We bring broccoli casseroles. We tell stories. We laugh. We mourn.
Or perhaps it's because I'm preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, which is composed of some of the most unorthodox statements in human history (not the least of which is the one mentioned above). I usually offer those who are mourning my condolensces, not my congratulations. In what reality can Jesus dare congratulate the mourning? How can he see mourning as a station of blessedness? I don't know about you, but when I am in mourning, "Congratulations!" isn't the greeting that seems appropriate. Sometimes, I think I'd laugh out loud at Jesus if I wasn't exalting him as Lord of all. Congratulating the mourning seems so foolish and counterintuitive.
And yet, there are days when I begin thinking that we've lost the capacity to love and feel compassion for another human being. Through a variety of means, our culture numbs us to the suffering and loss around us. The media bombards us with bad news without giving time and space for us to absorb the suffering fully. As a result, we understand the suffering around us but we no longer feel it enough to act upon it (or what Neil Postman calls an imbalance in the information-action ratio). Our technology allows us an unimaginable breadth of connections, but it struggles to help us deepen them. Seriously, how many funerals could you attend where you knew whether or not the preacher was lying through his teeth about the deceased? We frame our ethical debates in terms of "rights" (absolutist language), but our conversations all too often lack the compassion and care for others that fueled Jesus' ethic. If compassion for others stoked the same fires that personal liberties do, we would be a different culture indeed! In all of these ways and more, we are conditioned to keep pain, suffering, and loss at arm's length. Of course, in an effort to keep pain, suffering, and loss at arm's length, we must keep each other at arm's length too. I cannot love you without exposing myself to pain because love demands mutuality and symbiosis. I can't shield myself from human suffering without automatically diminishing my capacity to love another. The moment I begin to resist sharing your suffering, I also begin to resist YOU. One's capacity to suffer and one's capacity to love are exactly congruent.
In this way, only those who risk pain can truly love. Only those who mourn death can be said to have ever appreciated life in the first place. Only those who mourn loss truly valued it before it was lost. Only those who mourn truly shared in the existence of another. Maybe those who are mourning are the only ones who are fully ALIVE.
I'm reminded today that the first people who experienced the reality of resurrection were those who were mourning. Those women experienced the pain of loss, and they arrived at the tomb prepared to continue their mourning. And yet, it was into their loss that the living Christ spoke to them. It was in a cemetary that they first uncovered a life so subtly overwhelming that it changed the nature of their tears. It was in their grief that they first experienced the risen Jesus. Joy came in the morning. Joy also came in the mourning.
And so- blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).