MOURNING: IS PERSONAL AND PRIVATE
The Gospel according to Luke 6:17-26, records a shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 21 and 25 ends as follows: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh,” and “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” Jesus statements speak to me because I do laugh rather than mourn and weep over my blunderings. We mourn over losing a loved one or a friend that no longer needs our sympathy, but not over the sins we commit that keep us from God and each other.
In my life, my parent’s mourning or concern for me was a very persuasive argument. While in my teens, parents objected to the late hours and company I was keeping. Time after time, father would strike me in anger. For days my head would ache and buzz. All that punishment did little if any good. Then one day, father came into the shop and did not raise his hand in anger but wept like a child. He mourned over his son who was associating with friends that may cost him his salvation. There and after, I shunned the company of some of the friends and came home earlier. My father’s tears were more than I could bear. And when I became a father and grandfather, I too mourn over my loved ones. We also mourned for a grandson before he was born because medical technology informed us that he could not live with his deformed organs. He did live one day and, even that one day was an enormous comfort to us.
King David has set an example that behooves us to follow. The prophet Nathan reminded him that he had committed a mortal sin and that his child would pay for it. David immediately confessed his sin and went into mourning for his child. When the child died, he stopped mourning. His servants questioned his behavior and the king gave them this answer: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now that he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (II Sam. 12:22-23). We do suffer from the tendency to honor the dead instead of mourning for the living that are spiritually dead. If we live in sin, we are dead to God but also to each other here on earth. We need to be in mourning to be resuscitated. Jesus invited a qualified man to become a disciple, but the man was preoccupied with his dead father. Jesus told him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:59-60). Jesus also declared, “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 2232). We, the living need to mourn, weep, fast and pray and not the dead. By being dispensers of grace, we may resuscitate some.
Mourning opens the door to the human heart or mind and lets out the things that keep us from repenting and changing, and lets in love for God and others and begins to share grace with each other and with others. As long as there is no remorse feeling in us, there will be no repentance and we will not become dispensers of grace. John the Baptist unclogged his listeners very forcefully, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And to not begin to say to your-selves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk. 3:7-9). Superficial sorrow for themselves did not turn the disciples into dispensers of grace, but to bring comfort to those in sorrow and misery did. I was buried in my sorrow and misery in hospitals for a year and a half. In the same hospital there was a cheerful man in a stretcher for twenty years, being turned every few hours. Whenever I felt down and out, I went to see him and took in his hopeful disposition. Some of us need to get knocked off our pedestal to learn what it means to be mourned over and learn to become dispensers of grace and love ourselves.
There are occasions when comforting requires shock therapy. Disability and pain drive us to despair and we become difficult to deal with. One day, my day-nurse (I had three for several months) had it and said, “I’ll move you over to the window and help you jump.” That was shock therapy and it worked like magic. This little redhead was a pearl. At that time she had two men help her move me. She kept all the mirrors from me until I was mentally strong enough to become acquainted with my new face. More than anyone, she helped me face reality. That is something most comforters lack. How did Jesus put it? “When you know the truth, it will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Truth is painful and hard to bear — at least it was for me. Well-meaning people do not always make good comforters. Some brought their minor miseries and piled them on top of mine. Some had a suggestion from an expert, only he was not in my shoes. The ones that disturbed me the most were those that equated me with Job in the Bible. It did not comfort me. It scared me. The man lost all his children and I had none. Of course he had more children, but he could not get back what he had lost. The last thing I needed was a story that was far worse than mine. When I am called to be with someone that requires comforting, I let the mourner lead me, just as I was led; then I help them, if I can, over their rough road. If I cannot, I instantly refer them to someone that can. I went to school with a girl that was thirteen when the Soviet army molested women. We both grew up and met in Canada, while I was preparing at a college to enter Seminary. Her conscience was burdened with the past and I was unaware of her traumatic experience during the war. I intended to share with her the good news of love and forgiveness, but some one did not let me speak. I managed only to mumble: “pray, pray.” I ran out and avoided facing her. It took days before she told my mother to tell me that she found peace that night, without my comforting her. I firmly believe that the Lord did not let me comfort her because I was in the way of what and who could comfort her. After that experience, I had no problem facing and sharing with her. She was not only beautiful, but also an amazing young lady.
The most memorable people with a “makarioi” attitude or spirit were my mother’s brother and my mother-in-law. It was at the end of World War II that our people in Poland under the Soviets were taken into torture chambers to pay for the Nazi handiwork. My uncle who could not hurt a fly was dragged into one of those horror places where innocent humans were hung up and were stripped off their skin out of revenge. He fell on his knees and cried out to God, not for the sufferers but for the torturers, for mercy. His torturers froze and could not raise a hand against him. They let my uncle go home where his heart could not bear what he had seen. My mother-in-law and her seven children, the smallest was six months and my wife was two and one half years. She and hundreds with her were in boxcars on the way to labor camps in Siberia. My father-in-law along with most of our German men were execute, some were in prison camps and some in the army. They were being evacuated before the fast advancing German army arrived. This German general had the idea to move through less populated area and less opposition to get behind the major Soviet force and end the war quickly, as they had done in France. The Soviets had anticipated the German plot and set up an ambush. They needed the train my mother-in-law was on to pull out the last military post. They unloaded her with all the other women and children in an open field and had orders to shoot them all down. My mother-in-law cried to God, took her guitar and began to sing praises to God. Then she stood up and told the Russian soldiers to begin shooting with her and her children. The soldiers were dumfounded, boarded the rain and departed. The German army shipped the survivors to Western Poland; then, they fled to Germany and immigrated to the USA. I met my wife when I attended Princeton and her mother lived with us for three and one half years and shared her stories with me. The German army was the one that the Soviets destroyed. My mother-in-law was a true dispenser of comfort and grace – a true “makarioi.” I regret that I did not honor her enough when she was alive.
The words of Eliphaz to his friend Job suited my mother-in-law, “The lowly he (God) sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (Job. 5:11). She believed such words with all her heart. It is sad that we remember too late, her dispensing of grace to us. We loved and respected her, but did not always understand her. The “makarioi” are hard to understand and so are the things they hold dear. The choir director of Psalm 42, speaks of the “makarioi’s” hidden source of comfort and strength. “As a hart longs for the flowing stream, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food, day and night, while men say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cat down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” From David come these comforting words, “To thee, O Lord, I cried out; and to thee Lord I made my supplication.” “Thou has turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may praise thee and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever” (Ps. 30:8,11-12).
The “makarioi” do not blow their horns in public to announce their source of strength but they prepare by fasting and praying in private, so that they can shine where the darkness is the strongest and be a comfort rather than be comforted. They shine the brightest when they are overwhelmed with trials and tribulations.