Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. –Matthew 5:4
Instead of focusing on the whole of this week’s reading of the Beatitudes, I want to focus my On the Way reflections on just one of the Beatitudes and briefly reflect on mourning and the process of grief. In part, my reason for doing this is the massive outpouring of grief over the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant and the others who died in the helicopter crash this past weekend, but also because of my ongoing work with grief in congregational life (see Embracing God’s Future without Forgetting the Past) and in other, more personal, contexts as well.
The purpose of grief was once thought to be about letting go of our emotional ties with whatever has been lost so we can reinvest that energy in new relationships. In more recent years, we have learned that grieving is more about redefining those relationships than letting go of them. Grief is not about forgetting what we have lost. Instead, the grief process helps us to find a new place in our hearts, minds and spirits for those people, places and things that are lost to us. Grief helps us reorient ourselves to life without their physical presence. Loss shapes who we are going forward and our lost relationships can continue to shape us in positive -- and sometimes negative -- ways. This is true of small losses like losing our wallets, or large losses like losing a significant loved one to death.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus says that those who mourn will be comforted. He doesn’t say that we will not grieve. People of faith do grieve! We can find comfort in the midst of our grief in the ongoing, living relationships in our lives, as the community surrounds us and supports us and grieves with us. We can find comfort in talking about what we have lost, telling stories about the loved one who has died, and reminiscing about past experiences. But, as people of faith, we find ultimate comfort in Christ’s promise that death, sorrow and grief will not have the last word over our lives or over the lives of those we love. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians:
“But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” (vs. 13-14)
The promise of Jesus’ Resurrection is not just for some future time when we are reunited with those who have gone before us. It is also the source of hope and comfort for right now. Knowing that our future is always squarely in God’s hands, we can dare to step into it, even as we are strengthened by our stories of God’s faithfulness in the past, and the memories of those who have gone before us.
Pray for all those who mourn, surround them with compassion and care, and remind them that God, in Christ, goes with them. Thanks for reading.