The Beatitudes, the opening verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, give us a great picture of what it looks like to be part of the kingdom of heaven. They get at what our hearts and inner lives should look like. They also tell us about what we can expect as followers of Jesus who are taking part in the kingdom revolution. The second Beatitude of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount tells us that those who mourn are blessed.
Read Matthew 5.1–12.
We’ve all experienced loss. It could be loss of a job, relationship, or loved one. It could be spiritual loss, financial loss, relational loss, or physical loss. At some point, all of us have lost something that we valued. What changes each time is the grieving or mourning process. The mourning process can look different depending on what it is that we’ve lost. Nonetheless, mourning is something we’ve all had to experience.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” It seems a little backward, doesn’t it? In the original Greek, the word Jesus used for mourning has to do with the mourning that death and despair bring. It’s a deep, physical, painful wailing. When they heard this word, we can bet the disciples were thinking about death and the Jewish customs they followed when someone lost a loved one. Exploring these customs helps us understand the context of Jesus’ words.
When someone passed away in a Jewish community in that day, everyone who knew the person would tear their clothing in some way. This symbolized the condition of their heart and soul, as if something had been ripped or torn from them. The family of the loved one would do several things during the week following the funeral. This was a customary grieving process called Shiva. They wouldn’t bathe for entire week. They wouldn’t wear shoes or jewelry. They wouldn’t shave. They would cover their mirrors in their homes to show that they weren’t concerned with personal appearance. And they would sit on low stools, or even the floor, to symbolize the emotional reality of being “brought low” by the grief and pain of the loss. These actions are just small glimpses of how we feel on the inside as we mourn loss.
During Shiva, visitors come over to the house to bless the family in mourning. Traditionally, they don’t exchange any greetings and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. The mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may. In fact, they can completely ignore the visitors. Visitors traditionally take on the hosting role when attending a Shiva, often bringing food and serving it to the mourning family and other guests.
Question: How do the Jewish customs of Shiva compare to your personal experience of loss in your own community? What aspects of Shiva do you think would be beneficial during a time of mourning?
Translating these customs to our day might look like bringing meals, hugging and sharing tears with those who are grieving, or just sitting alongside them so they don’t have to be alone. It’s actions like these that can help bring life and comfort to those who are mourning. Jesus gives us a picture of how he handled His own grief at the death of His friend in John 11.
Read John 11.28–35.
When Jesus saw Mary and the people who had been with her—the friends and family visiting Mary and Martha during Shiva—He felt their grief and wept with them. When others are mourning, Jesus sets an example to mourn with them. He made time to be with them and love them. When we see Jesus mourning, it means that our God mourns, too. Even though He knows He’ll soon bring Lazarus back to life, He still takes time to mourn the loss of His friend.
If God mourns death with us, what else does He mourn? The deep, painful mourning of loss that God feels is ultimately a result of sin. He mourns over sin and injustice. He mourns the pride, lust, apathy, greed, lying, stealing, and cheating He sees in His children. God sees all of these things, and He mourns. He mourns over the loss of what could have been if we hadn’t turned our back on Him in the Garden of Eden and given into temptation.
As followers of Christ and those who love Him, we can mourn the things that He mourns. If God mourns over our sin, then we should be mourning over it as well. We can mourn on the level of cosmic sin—because our world is broken and needs redemption—but can also mourn the sin in our own communities, families, and hearts.
Question: Do you feel grief over your own sin? In what specific areas can you relate with God’s mourning over sin and injustice in the world? How should you respond to it?
The great news is that we aren’t meant to be in a state of constant mourning. Jesus goes on to say, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted.” How will they be comforted?
Read 2 Corinthians 1.3–7.
This is great news to those of us who are mourning or have mourned in some way. Our God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, sees us. He looks on us with love and blessing and comforts us. We are blessed because the One who can take away pain, loss, grief, and death is offering us true comfort. He offers us healing and eternal life in exchange for loss and grief.
Question: In what ways have you felt God comfort you recently? Take some time to thank Him for it.
It doesn’t stop there, though. God comforts us so that we can comfort others. We can be God’s hands and feet—His comfort—to those around us. We can be there for them. We can speak truths like, “I know this hurts, but I love you and I’m here.” We can pray for them. (See Philippians 2.3–4.)
Any comfort we provide will be imperfect, and there will always be mourning and loss on earth. The good news is that there is One who offers eternal comfort. Our ultimate comfort is knowing that, in the kingdom of heaven, there will eventually be no more suffering, no more pain, and no more mourning. “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.” (Revelation 21.4)