Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Does "Blessed Are Those Who Mourn" Mean?

"We've been looking together...at what it means to be truly human". Jesus erupted on the field in his time and people were just trying to figure out who He was. He had a dozen or so followers consisting of fisherman and tax collectors. They had seen miracles of the Savior, but probably the most memorable aspects to them were His insights to life. In Matt 5, Matthew outlines much of what Jesus shared with them. True to form, Jesus outlines the most counter intuitive of human traits as the keys to the Kingdom.

The first description of the kind person Jesus wanted to have close to Him was the "poor in spirit". This had to be a bit of a shock to those listening because Jesus wasn't calling for those who were strongest or the most agile. He would need powerful soldiers beside Him, wouldn't He? He would need the brightest of biblical scholars, right? No. The second attribute Jesus calls for are those "who mourn, for they will be comforted". Erwin can take the words "blessed" and "comforted" and connect the two, but putting "mourn" in the middle loses him. Who wakes up saying they've lost everything in this Recession; their house, there girlfriend, their money, their job and then think, "Hey, I need to add more grief and sorrow to be blessed"?

The end result is attractive, but wouldn't it have been better for Jesus to say, "blessed are those who avoid mourning"? Couldn't He give us a loophole to avoid the sorrows of life? If He is designing this whole thing, why can't He show us how we can stem bad experiences? But God tells us that our life in following Him will be filled with mourning and He is also tells us that there is a blessing in all of it. Erwin muses, "I look back and I think I now understand"

When Erwin was 13, he and his mom were driving down the rode and she asked him, "Honey, who do you think you would rather live with, your father or me?" Erwin responded unexpectedly (to his mother), by saying that he would want to return to El Salvador and live with his grandparents, Mammy and Pappy. Offended, his mother said, "Oh, so I could just die right now and you would be fine. Right?" Speaking truthfully, Erwin answered by saying, "Yes, I would be fine." He wasn't being mean to his mother. He was just sharing with her who he had become in life. He had experienced so much pain at that point in his life that he had figured out that the best way to deal with it was just to not feel anything at all. His parents had divorced and Erwin knew intense despair and disappointed to the point of not wanting to care anymore.

For mourning to happen, there has to be 1) loss and there has to be 2) love. If you haven't experienced mourning, you haven't lost anything you love. But if you live long enough, you will. If you don't, it is somewhat of a tragedy, because it means you've been hurt to the extent that you won't allow yourself to feel the deepest level of love because of the accompanying risk of sorrow and grief. Jesus mourned. To mourn is not only human, but divine. Jesus wept when he saw his friends mourning the death of a Lazarus and he joined them in their sorrow. His love wasn't limited to the individual. He looked over Jerusalem and said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to hold you in my arms like a mother hen holds her chicks, but you would not."

A lot of us think that mourning is a sign of weakness and that if we have inner strength, we will never suffer inner loss. We've chosen to live on the surface level because we are so afraid of being wounded again. Maybe this is what Jesus meant by saying "blessed are those who mourn", because those who mourn are able to experience deep love. He promises us though, that if we allow ourselves to love, we will lose, but that He won't leave us. However, He does makes it very clear that we cannot navigate any way around loss.

"I've been to a lot of funerals...more than I ever cared to go to." says Erwin. Observing those in funerals, he came to realize that those who were most flamboyant about their grief in public were usually those who were most disconnected to the person who had died! Often, the ones who loved deeply actually wept in a very elegant quietness. Maybe Jesus moves us to the place of mourning so that we can be comforted. It is a genuinely beautiful experience to love. Grief is proof that love is more powerful than death. A person may die, but the love mysteriously continues to live on. The expression of grief is a desire to physically connect love with the one who is lost.

"I had a strange thing happen this past month." Erwin gets a lot of emails from people he doesn't know and one of the emails he received was from a couple in Kansas City, Brandon and Jodie. They looked to be in their early 20's. They were married and had a baby boy two years ago. After reading one of his books, Erwin was surprised and shocked to learn they had named their child "Erwin". But one day, he found out that Brandon was diagnosed with cancer. The couple, being believers, thought everything would be okay. But the cancer grew more aggressive and is now terminal. Erwin called and, for the first time, spoke briefly with the family, Jodie and then with Brandon before he was to go in to his final surgery. Brandon barely survived. Here is a moment, though, where aside from our grief, we ask God why this man, who serves Him and honors Him, would experience this kind of loss and threat to never be there as a father for his son. But Jesus never tells us we will be blessed because He "will fix it all". In fact, He promises we will have tragedy, death, sorrow and loss. What He does do is promise that His Spirit, the Great Comforter, will be with us. He promises us that, in our deepest moments of pain, He will meet us.

In Revelation 21:1-5, we get a peek into what it is going to look like in Heaven. Verse 5 is beautiful for the mourner; "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Erwin says he doesn't know all the symbolism or metaphors of the book of Revelation, but what he does know is, Jesus does know our pain, but He is here to help us experience deep love, compassion joy, celebration and hope.

Do you ever read scripture and you just skip ove the parts that really don't make sense? What's curious about Revelation is the part in the verses above (Verse 1) that says there will no longer be a sea. "What's wrong with the sea?" muses Erwin. His name actually means "lover of the sea", so why would God want to get rid of it? To know the answer to this requires some explanation of context.

Erwin loves ice cream much more than his wife. Often, he compulsively gets an urge to get ice cream at odd times. Sometimes he will drive all the way to Pasadena just to go to "21 Choices", the pinnacle of ice cream experience. It's fantastic and they always have new flavors. But, no matter how many flavors he'll sample, which they allow, he always goes back to his "old school" flavor. He'll through in pecans, blackberries and strawberries. The entire experience is joyful and it reminds him of what Heaven must be like. Erwin learned years ago that, when he was 3 or 4 years old, his father actually kidnapped him and they found the two of them in an ice cream shop eating ice cream together. Could it be that this is why Erwin, decades later, loves ice cream so much, because he subconciously connects it with the love of his father?

The man who wrote the book of Revelation was a guy named John. Unlike the other apostles, who were killed, John was exiled to the island of Patmos. When he got up every day and walked to the edge of the beach, all he saw was a sea. The sea was what kept him from everyone he ever loved and or cared. How often John must have despised the sea that separated him. Writing "there will be no more death, weeping, mourning or pain", he includes "sea" as the symbolism that we will not have the separation of love. What are the seas in our lives? Erwin, still from his childhood loss of his father, still feels a disconnection when he loses someone.

Jesus knew that the experience of the most beautiful love would bring the greatest pain, but....it is better to love. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." For those who are willing to risk much and experience the deepest loss, they are blessed.

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