“Blessed are they that mourn”
from A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms
Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.
He that goeth forth and weepeth,
bearing precious seed,
shall doubtless come again
bringing his sheaves with him.
As I write this today, I find myself in a state of mourning. Mourning for those whose lives have been taken or adversely affected by COVID-19, mourning for those who lost loved ones to the two recent shootings, mourning…maybe just because I need to. I am forthright with this perhaps unflattering portrayal of myself because I think mourning might be one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated aspects of the Christian faith. We are not comfortable with mourning, and so we try to move past the emotion as quickly as possible, covering it with some sort of manufactured joy.
It feels a bit dirty to write down, but sometimes in the church we can be a bit like salespeople. We know that we are representatives of Christ on Earth and so our actions represent Christ. In a lot of ways, the recognition of this great responsibility serves as a good thing that can inspire us towards a better way of living with and for others.
However, when we are struck with the inevitable less-than-perfect emotions of grief, mourning, or anxiety, this same responsibility can lead us to push those feelings down and, like any good PR representative, throw a fake smile on our face so we represent our client (God) well. We want to exemplify the joy we found in Christ after all, right? How can we do that when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders? How can we shine our light when our hearts feel dark and heavy?
I won’t lie, this is a tricky thing to critique, because the ideals behind it are really quite noble. In some minor cases, there is even evidence for “faking it till you make it” – some studies have found that smiling can trick our brains into releasing dopamine and serotonin, two notable feel-good chemicals. But I think this response to sadness comes from and leads to a skewed sense of what it means to be “set apart.”
The ministry of Christ shows a very different example of what “set apart” looked like. Jesus, the purest example of “in the world, but not of the world” led a life filled with grief. He wept for Lazarus (John 11:45). As He rode into Jerusalem, the very triumphant occasion which we celebrate on Palm Sunday, the scripture says that Christ wept for the city (Luke 19:41). The Christ is even prophesied in Isaiah 53:3 as a “Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
In this, we see that Christ’s life on earth was not notable for how stoic He remained in the face of tragedy, how strong He was for those around Him, or how well He smiled through the pain. His ministry was not notable for its austerity. The life and ministry of Christ is spectacular because of its sincerity. His was a ministry of breaking down barriers, not of putting up facades. Whatever you are going through, know that you are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling. The church is not a trophy case for holy people, it is a home where you are loved through each and every trial.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church