Blessed are those who love
Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
I find it somewhat difficult to think of mourning as a blessing. That is counterintuitive to me and doesn’t seem to describe any kind of reality that I understand. In what world is mourning a blessing?
It would seem to me more realistic to say that blessed are those who do not mourn because they are not mourning. They are not experiencing loss. They are not feeling bereft or lonely or angry or lost. They are not wondering why. They are not beset with regret. Aren’t the ones who are not mourning the ones who are blessed?
So it is hard for me to imagine mourning as a blessing.
On the other hand, I do know that it is a blessing to be comforted. Like all of us, I have experienced loss, disappointment, and grief. And I’ve been blessed with comfort in those times. People bring food, or they give you a call or send a card or drop off a flower. Or they just come over and give you a hug and say “I’m sorry.” It has been a blessing to me to not be alone in my grief.
As a community we are experiencing some grief right now. We have lost several of our folks this year - Christine, Joe, Sandy, Mary, Bob. Our friends and family have suffered losses, too - people, jobs, safety nets, plans. And we are faced with more loss as we ponder how we will let go of what our parish has been in order to allow something new to be born and to grow. Loss is always redeemed eventually, but unfortunately we don’t get to just go there to redemption immediately. Instead we must sit with our grief for a while. There is work to do with our grief.
We all have heard about the stages of grief of course - shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression …. And how we don’t just move through the stages in a straight line but circle around in and among them for a while before we finally at some point get to hope and acceptance. And how if we try to cover up our grief, if we try to stifle our sorrow, it just jumps up and bites us out of the blue because it will not stay underground. Trying to stifle our grief just makes it last longer, they say.
But at any stage, comforting one another is always appropriate. It is always a blessing, both to comfort and to be comforted.
I have always found the feast of All Saints’ to be comforting. Having grown up in a different tradition in which saints and saints’ days were not recognized and certainly not celebrated, I was just blown away when I learned about this thing called the Communion of Saints. How there is this great stream of God’s people all through time, from long long ago up until now and also how the stream flows and reaches into the future and we are part of that great stream that stretches backwards and forwards in time and out of time. Being part of the communion of saints means that we do not go it alone. We are not alone, we are surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses that attest again and again to the goodness of God and the beauty of the promise that even the worst things that can happen to us in this life will be redeemed. The saints through their stories show us how God takes away shame, how God restores us, and yes even how God gives us rest when we have run our race. Because we are part of this communion of saints, we are not alone in our grief but caught up with them in a bigger story of what it means to have life in God even though we die.
These three days at the turn of October into November, All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day or the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, the little Triduum some people call them, beckon us to remember our place in this larger story, to remember our connection with those gone before and with those who will come after us. The larger story of creation and birth and life and death and resurrection is lived out by people in every time and place and we are connected to their stories. I like being part of that story. I like that each of our stories has a counterpart in another story. And I remember the day that I recognized that I wanted to step into that great stream that I had suddenly discovered. It was such a precious thing to me that I didn’t even tell anyone about it for several years. It took me a long time to be able to find the right words.
Our grief is part of our life. It is part of our story. It is part of God’s story. Even Jesus wept in grief when his friend Lazarus died, even though he knew what he was about to do, even though he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, to call him out of the tomb. But first, Jesus stopped and he wept. His tears were holy tears. Which means that our tears are holy, too. Our grief at every stage is both necessary and precious and holy.
And so maybe when Jesus says blessed are those who mourn, who grieve, who feel the losses and let the feelings come, it is because those who mourn know what it is to love. And if Jesus never said it specifically at any one time, nearly everything Jesus said at every time is this:
Blessed are those who love.