7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

24. Mourning/Dancing

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Mourning or Dancing

Eccles 3:4 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn?  Of course when someone dies!  That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn?  We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral of someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew who dies. Perhaps we aren’t so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it’s when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can’t imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!  In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it.

Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I’m sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn’t come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won’t be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn’t something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4)  God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It’s right to mourn for close loss. It’s right to cry. It’s right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We’re not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life’, recognizing that life has got to continue, but it’s a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward pleasure and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It’s just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can’t be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again.  Yes, as we’ve said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can’t laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn’t go on for ever. You shouldn’t mourn when it’s a time of happiness. We can’t mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don’t feel the anguish of loss, don’t try and pretend.  Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That’s what life is like; that’s how we are made.

4. Those who Mourn

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 4

Mt 5:3 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We do not look forward to mourning; it is not something we would consider as a good part of life yet Jesus, in only the second of these Beatitudes, says those who mourn are blessed. How can it be? Mourning follows death! Solomon seemed to have the same idea: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:3,4). The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning? Whatever does he mean?

Having recently been to a funeral of a family member, I have recently been reminded of another aspect of death and of the mourning that follows: it sheds light on life, it makes you think about life and what follows it. Death brings a perspective to life that is often missing. Yes, there is grief there for the loss of a loved one, but in the midst of that is this inner reflection that goes on, what is life about, what follows it? That’s what Solomon meant.

Before we put any spiritual sense to today’s verse, let’s take it at its face value. Those who mourn will be comforted? Is that always true? Well time, they say, is a great healer, but does it bring ‘comfort’? I think ‘acceptance’ is probably the right word, the ability to come to terms with the fact that death has occurred and life must go on, but not ‘comfort’. Comfort suggests a positive, good feeling. For many people with no spiritual experience or no relationship with God, death is a thing to be feared, or even hated, as it is seen to have snatched a loved one away. No, mourners are not always comforted, so what was Jesus saying?

When we put it in the context of the previous beatitude, when we think back on the things we thought about in the previous meditation, we realize that part of the process that we referred to, of coming to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and our need, does in fact involve mourning. We realize that the life we have lived fell far short of what we felt it could have been. We come to an awareness of our own failure, our own shortcomings and we anguish for that life. Indeed, even though that life is still there, we mourn over it, we grieve because of it. It is this process that brings us to the recognition that we must get right with God, and if God have provided a way for that to happen, we must accept that.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul uses the language of death: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:2-4), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.(v.6-8), “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(v.11)

What Paul was saying was that to become a Christian we have to die to our old life, we have to give it up and let God bring us a new one. Now we don’t mourn the old life after it has gone, that is the strange thing. No, we mourn for it, while we still have it. It is that mourning, that grieving over it, that brings us to Christ, that brings us to a place of surrender, where we are willing to let go our old life and let Jesus renew us. While we are in that state of mourning we wonder if indeed we are hopeless. Speaking of our old life, the apostle Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph 2:1). He then added, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4,5). That’s the life we had before we knew Christ – we were spiritually dead and hopeless and helpless, and then the Holy Spirit started convicting us and we started mourning that hopeless deadness. That was a vital part of bringing us right through.

So, the first beatitude shows us our need to come to an awareness of our spiritual poverty (dead in your transgressions and sins) and the second one shows us our need to realize the awfulness of that life, and mourn over it. These are the initial stages of us coming to Christ, the ‘bad news’ that precedes the ‘Good News’.

Woe to Laughers

Readings in Luke Continued – No.20

Lk 6:25 Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.


There are times when it seems the Bible lays itself open to the criticism of being ‘miserable’ or ‘kill-joy’. When the critics come across such a verse as this they say, “See, even Jesus’ teaching was against laughter. What a miserable religion you have!” In such words they reveal their inability to see beyond their prejudices. I have often wondered what it must have been like travelling with Jesus and seeing hundreds if not thousands of people being healed. I know that in the past when I have had back pain or toothache or something similar, when it has gone, I am so happy that I have wanted to sing. It must have been like that constantly with Jesus, with so many people being healed or delivered. Joy must have been the key description describing what accompanied his ministry, and with joy comes laughter. I am absolutely certain that Jesus’ ministry evoked more joy and laughter than the world had ever known before – or since.

So how come negative words about laughter?  How is it that when we go into the Old Testament we come across the wisest man in the world writing, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Eccles 7;2) and “Sorrow is better than laughter.” (v.3)? These really do sound like kill-joy verses! What is the answer?

The answer for our verse today is to see it in context and remember what we have been saying in the last two meditations. The verses we are examining are counterpoints to the verses immediately before. The previous verses have clear spiritual meanings while the present ones have primarily physical meanings with spiritual applications. Previously we saw how riches and being well fed can lull us into a state of complacency. The counterpoint to today’s verse is, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (v.21b). Interestingly there is no equivalent in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, yet in line with the intent of those verses and the preliminary ones now, v.21b may be taken to mean ‘blessed are you when you weep for your sins and come to repentance, for this will lead you into the kingdom of God and into a life of joy in God.’ Tears are an expression of repentance and open the way to blessing which in turn brings joy and laughter.

Now when we consider today’s verse in the light of these other ones, we can suggest that Jesus’ intention here is to say, ‘Beware you who laugh now and are careless for nothing, for your present laughter indicates your indifference to your need and that will keep you from salvation so that one day when you face the Lord there will be many tears as you realise it is too late.’

Going back to Solomon, what was the meaning of his somber words? They implied the same thing. In a house of feasting there is indifference to the realities of life and the fact that one day you will be answerable to God, whereas in a house of mourning you are facing up to death and to eternity, and that is more likely to help you realise your need in eternity to put your life right with God. In that sense, and that sense alone, indeed sorrow is better than laughter for it helps us come through to salvation where there will be eternal joy and laughter, and not the temporary, shallow joys of this material world, and the laughter that goes with it.

Oh yes, there is much joy in the kingdom of God. Contrary to those who declare that life with God is a miserable faith, the Bible bears a different testimony. From the earliest times of Israel being constituted as a nation under God we find: “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.” (Lev 9:23,24)

Although there was a holy awe it accompanied by joy that God was with them! In fact that was not an unusual experience and so quite often we find the equivalent of, “They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the LORD that day.” (1 Chron 29:22) After the restoration following the Exile we find, “ For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22). In the Gospel of Luke the word ‘joy’ is used to describe things happening ten times, and that’s never recording the joy and laughter that must have accompanied the healing of many. Bear in mind as well that Solomon said, “A feast is made for laughter,” (Eccles 10:19) and the Law prescribed a number of feasts every year to be held throughout the land.

It is important when we come across such verses as today’s that we see them in the context of the whole Bible, and in the context of the chapter and surrounding verses, and understand the significance of them in the light of salvation. Laughter before salvation can be a hindrance. Laughter after salvation is normal!