Friday, August 29, 2014
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
I am an American. We don’t really know how to mourn. In my culture, tears are viewed as weakness. Grief is hidden, tucked away in a corner where no one can see. A brave, happy face is put on the outside, but deep inside we don’t know how to handle our feelings of sorrow. I have visited cultures who display grief and mourning openly. I remember a funeral procession that passed in front of me in Zambia. Professional “wailers” had been hired to accompany the casket. Their cries tore at my soul just as the clothes the mourners wore were torn to bits and pieces. Their grief over the death of a loved one reached to every person they passed by.
Four words are used in the New Testament Greek for grief, mourn or sorrow. Here in Matthew 5 the word Pentheo is used. It is the only word that expresses a deep sense of inner grief that consumes a person. It is a grief that is so controlling it cannot be hidden. It rises from the depths inside to manifest itself in outward appearance.
The Jewish people have a specific way in which they mourn death. Life is valued above all else yet death is not seen as a tragedy, rather it is part of a natural process. Death is part of God’s plan. The mourning period begins with two days, called aninut, to care for the deceased. This is a time to be alone and prepare the body. There are no responsibilities for daily tasks. Even the commands of “thou shalt…” are not followed. This is a time to reflect and express sorrow — alone. Next is a seven day period of Shiva when family members and friends surround the mourner to offer condolences and comfort. During this period the mourner does not shave or apply makeup. They sit on a low stool or the floor rather than in a comfortable chair. They are still expressing strong grief over their loss, yet it is one step removed from the body. Following Shiva there is a thirty day period called Shloshim. During this time, daily routines resume but the mourner does not cut their hair or attend parties and celebrations. They no longer focus all their time and energy on the person who had died, yet they still do not celebrate in the fullness of life. For parents who have lost a child, the most extreme period of grieving, avelut, lasts for a full year. Outliving a son or daughter is not the natural course of life. When you loose that precious child, no matter the age, a part of you dies with them. This extended grieving recognizes this depth of sorrow.
So why is it important to understand mourning and the process it involves? There are three situations in which this strong word is used in the New Testament — in death, over sin and sorrow at the end times.
Following the death of a loved one, mourning is what makes it possible to eventually experience meaning and purpose once again. It is important to go through each step of mourning to find healing. We often want to avoid this painful process, but it is important to understand that only through experiencing mourning will comfort and healing come.
Sin has the power to destroy life. If we find ourselves entrenched in sin or are unrepentant of sin, there is reason to mourn. We must fully recognize our sin before we can be forgiven. It is God’s greatest desire to rescue us from sin, but we must understanding the state we are.
The beautiful thing about mourning as a Christian is that I am not alone. The word parakaleo is translated as “comfort” but the first meaning is “to call alongside.” Isn’t that beautiful? As I begin the process of mourning, I am calling God to join with me. I do not have to go through this painful time alone. God is “sitting shiva” with me. He is right there, holding me when I cry.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,