Blessed are those who mourn

Jesus Christ undeniably left an indelible mark on humanity. Even non-believers recognize Him as a great teacher. His enduring influence speaks to that. Yet so many of His maxims and lessons are so puzzling and enigmatic. Take for example His “blesseds” in the Sermon on the Mount. He turned the perceptions of what is good and what is not upside down. And He continued doing that same thing in the three short years of His public ministry, and we are still wondering about some of His observations regarding an unseen kingdom.

“Blessed are those who mourn…” I am approaching the anniversary of the death of my husband, and blessed is not first the word I would necessarily choose to describe my emotional state. God has been palpably near, and without question my strongest support through a time of loss, grief, and loneliness. Yet sadness, remorse, remembrance, nostalgia, longing – these words come first to my natural thinking. And then I read John 11…

During Jesus’ short time on earth He had followers, but He also developed friendships that we know of. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were people He hung out with, ate with and were described as His friends. So it is interesting to track His response when He is told that his friend was sick. He purposefully stays away, knowing that he would die. Would a kind loving friend let His friends suffer the anguish of such a painful parting? Apparently so! Our perspective of such a decision is probably similar to that of Martha and Mary, even though we know the end of the story. God’s ways are obviously not our ways, but as mere specks in the spectrum we should defer to eternal wisdom in these matters. But like Lazarus’ sisters, I too said “Lord, why did this have to happen? If you would have been here, Mike could have been healed!” But Jesus is gentle with them (and me), does not rebuke them for their distress. At such times our concept of God and His goodness can be shattered. Suffering and death are just wrong, but they are just as wrong to Jesus. Watch what happens next.

John 11:33V “When Jesus saw Mary’s profound grief and the mourning and weeping of her companions, He was deeply moved by their pain in His spirit and was intensely troubled.” Deeply moved – intensely troubled. His tender heart ached when He witnessed the ravages of mankind’s cruel mortal enemy, saw the dignity of life stripped mercilessly from his friends. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He understood that His whole mission to this little planet was to conquer sin and death, yet the future prospect did not erase the present pain. He continued by asking to see the tomb. V35: “As they walked, He wept, and everyone noticed how much Jesus must have loved Lazarus. But others were skeptical.” Not much has changed – there are the believers and the skeptics still, but one cannot help but notice that His tears were mingled with those of His friends. Jesus wept – shortest but perhaps the most profound verse in the Bible. God does not passively observe our pain and suffering. He enters into it. In fact, Jesus voluntarily chose unfathomable suffering to give us opportunity for unimaginable existence.

V 38 “Then Jesus, who was intensely troubled by all this, approached the tomb.” One cannot help but notice the repetition which reveals the intensity of His emotion. At this point He asks Martha an interesting question. He asks her if she believed in the resurrection. Of course she held that doctrine close, as do I, but small comfort it is in the moment when your loved one has been torn from your life, his spot at the table empty, his wit, love and companionship removed. It almost seems like something a well meaning Christian would say to you in an attempt to comfort the ache in your heart, pointing to a future reunion – which is, of course, true and hopeful, but rather hollow in the emotional tidal wave of grief. But His next words – imagine standing there at the tomb of your family member, ravaged with sorrow – and He says “I am the resurrection.’ I think I would have been startled, stunned, confused, and intrigued. And speechless! She knew Him as a prophet, a teacher, a friend, and she undoubtedly had heard much of His teaching, but she could not have expected this statement. He had told his followers, and perhaps her, that He was going back to His Father to get a place ready for them in His kingdom. He told His disciples that He longed to be with them some day in another realm. His whole life and teaching demonstrated that this earth-life is a camping trip and not a destination. Resurrection was kind of a vague distant concept. Yet He stands there and says He is the resurrection. Confusing at best.

Then He does it – He calls Lazarus out of the grave, who immediately shuffles out all wrapped up in the grave clothes. What a scene!! Was there applause or stunned silence? What a man- He was the master not just of nature, but of death itself. This story, perhaps drained of impact by its familiarity, offers us the comfort of a God Who took our sorrow on Himself and told us “There’s more to it – that’s not the end of the story.” He knew the end of the story but wept with us in the middle. His comfort is not an idle platitude. My husband, like Lazarus, has experienced the truth of Jesus’ claim. He welcomed them both to the place He personalized for them. He greeted them with His approving smile. We don’t have to think of them lying in that cold dark grave. They are unimaginably ecstatic with life in an incorruptible kingdom. And us? We can be assured of God’s tender heart in the interim and expect His loving care day by day. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”