A reflection on Matthew 5:4 for Sunday, February 13, 2022 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4 (NLT)
Lament and sadness are emotions our culture tends to shy away from. Rarely to we embrace the invitation to ‘mourn’ – and even less often do we see it as a path to deep joy or its connection to blessing, repentance, and the embrace of a deeply spiritual way of being in this world.
Yet mourning can be the most profound expression of gratitude and joy. On many occasions I have led funerals that were a life-giving mix of sadness expressing thankfulness and wonder. Mourning the loss of a loved one can be a profound affirmation of the gift of life.
Death, however, is not the only time we are called upon to mourn. The book of Lamentations and many of the dedicated lament Psalms point Israel to sadness as a response to the way we embrace the values of the world rather than the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we do not centralise an ever expanding love for God, others and creation, one of the most appropriate responses is lament. Surely sadness is a good – and creative – way of acknowledging the destructive things we do – and nurturing a desire to bring about change.
In his book, ‘You Are What You Love’, James Smith argues that it is love that brings about in us the most profound changes. Smith argues that, although there is surely a place for reasoning in repentance, it is in feeling the depths of love and connection that we find the resources and capacity to change our behaviour.
Recently I watched a documentary on the life and work of Jane Goodall. Jane is famous for living among chimpanzees in Africa. What stood out to me – in both the film ‘The Hope’ and in her similarly named book, ‘The Book of Hope’ (co-written with Douglas Carlton Abrams), was the sense of wonder and awe that founded her significant work and study. Jane did not start with a series of detached scientific and rational questions as much as she began with a ‘love’ for the environment and the animal world. After watching and reading, I was left deeply grateful that Jane followed her wonder – which guided her into a profound ability and energy to work toward change.
Of course we could consider other examples: Rev’d Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bear Grills. No doubt you could add to this list – making it significantly longer.
Maybe we can say that each of these people started with ‘love’?
If we can, my suspicion is that in following love they have also embraced lament. Clearly MLK and Tutu were deeply saddened by the lack of dignity afforded by significant parts of their societies. To me, many of their speeches are almost pure lament. Similarly, Goodall and Grylls seem to have developed significant capacity to mourn the state of the environment.
(Please do not read too much into this eclectic list of celebrities – they reflect my January reading more than anything else!)
Yet we would be hard pressed to suggest that any of these were paralysed by this sadness. In fact the opposite seems to be true. Each in refusing to deny – but rather to embrace – lament experienced a deepening of their resolve to contribute to change.
Perhaps lament is the very reason we can point to each of these people as people of hope.
The gospels portray Jesus as a person of lament. Jesus wept over his friend’s death. He shed tears as he entered the city of Jerusalem remembering all that had taken place there. He wept in the garden of Gethsemane as the creator of all life prepared for his coming death. Once again, we would be hard-pressed to assert that the tears of Jesus were not also expressions of hope – and reveal hope in the very heart of the God.
God both laments and hopes.
One of my heroes, Father Richard Rohr, claims that as we grow older we are likely to experience sadness on a deeper level. At the same time, however, he also points to a deeper capacity for both joy and hope.
I wonder if Jesus, in his disarming simplicity, is pointing to the same reality.
Is there a sadness that by embracing – and not avoiding – will bring you closer to God? Do you think you can know God more by embracing your tears?
In what ways do you think lament can be and indication of call?
How does the Kingdom of God draw you further into the sorrow of the world rather than away from it? How do you think lament might draw you more deeply into prayer?