As the Coronavirus peaks, we find ourselves nearing the landmark quarter-of-a-million deaths worldwide from this pandemic – over 25,000 of which are here in the UK – making the UK the nation with the fifth largest reported deaths worldwide. Moreover, with livelihoods, businesses and the rhythms of life that we are used to being lost, grief and mourning will be inevitably close to home. But is there room for Christian grief and Christian mourning?
Grief is the feeling deep inside of us that results from any loss – be it through the death of someone we love (Mar 16:10) or the end of a career that defined our identity (Rev 18:10-11) or the loss of what might have been experienced by a childless couple, or the admission that a relationship has failed or the recognition of the loss of our innocence, righteousness or self-respect (Jam 4:9). But if grief is a feeling of loss deep inside, mourning is how we express that grief outside of ourselves. For our internal grief to be resolved within a healthy way, it needs to find its outlet in sincere mourning.
Some branches of the Church today seem to imagine that the Holy Spirit filled believer must wear a perpetual grin, a continuously joyous persona and continually thank God because all their prayers are answered and everything is perfect. Underlying that is the belief that if our faith in the supernatural “wonders” of God is firm, then no pain, sickness, calamity, poverty or loss of any kind will ever touch the spirit-filled, righteous believer. However, the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter. The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears and too few of us in the church ever feel able to confess to weeping them. Here, in the second beatitude Jesus teaches us that healthy mourning can in fact be a source of blessing.
Have you ever felt the need to hide your grief and suppress your mourning in order to fit in? Do you feel church is intrinsically a safe space for emotional transparency?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
John Stott suggests that in the Beatitudes, Jesus was not specifically referring to bereavement, but to mourning a wider grief, including the more spiritual sorrow of sin through repentance. This is based on the numerous uses of the word mourning (pentheō) throughout the New Testament to refer to deeply felt grief over sin, both personal and corporate (Jam 4:9, 1 Cor 5:2, 2 Cor 12:21). It is worth remembering that death first entered our world in the garden of Eden because of human rebellion and sin – so for all our human existence on Earth, sin and death have been theologically linked (Gen 3:17-19).
The rituals of mourning are deeply cultural. While some cultures wail, others silently weep, while some view grief as communal others increasingly see it as deeply private, while some put on mourning clothes to outwardly express their grief publicly, others internalise the feelings and keep them hidden. In our modern Western society, communal acts have increasingly been replaced by individual experiences. Nevertheless psychologists point out that ‘religious’ funerals, eulogies, social gatherings, expressing both joys and sorrows seem to be a universal need for all people regardless of culture. In this present lockdown, our rituals have been further disrupted as we socially distance.
Q 1- In what ways do you think the feeling of grief and the act of mourning can be expressed in our current situation?
The feeling of contrition and the act of repentance echo the feeling of grief and the act of mourning. The act of repentance has taken many corporate forms in the church through history – confessing sins to the priest or self-examination before communion or confession of sin in public meetings or twelve step programs that help deal with addiction. Historically, all these have been used to allow the contrite Christian to effectively repent, receive absolutions and truly accept and trust their own righteous standing in God’s sight. These “rituals” allow the penitent to receive the forgiveness and healing which is already theirs by faith in Christ (Jam 5:16).
Q 2- How do you think the church can offer support for those wishing to repent their sins?
In 1 Cor 5:1-2 Paul is clearly disappointed that the church in Corinth did not mourn the prevalence of open unconfronted sin in the church. (cf. 2 Cor 12:21) Likewise, Jesus wept over the sins of Jerusalem and the judgement that He knew would come on her (Luke 19:41-44, Mat 23:37-39)
Q 3- Based on what we have read, how can we effectively “mourn” the sinful state of our homes, our churches and our city?
Watch together this video about this verse to help you discuss it.
|2 Corinthians 1:3-5
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
Q 4- In what ways might recognising that Christ is with us bring us hope in the middle of despair?
Think of times when God has taken you through grief into healthy mourning. How has the knowledge of His presence and love been a source of blessing through the hard times?
If you have time to do this in the group – why not? Otherwise perhaps if you have time this week, you may wish to carry on studying God’s word around this subject.
21So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul, who wrote these words, was an apostle chosen by God to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. He was responsible for writing most of the New Testament, and shaping the faith of millions of believers. Here, as he writes to the church in Rome, he mourns his own sinfulness publicly for all to read. While Paul may not have been any more sinful than any of us, he certainly was more aggrieved by his sinfulness then many of us are today. This perhaps is because for Paul the contrast could not be starker – In sin there is death while in Christ there is Life (Rom 6:23).
Q 1- Paul struggled internally with what he described as a raging war between God’s Law and the law of sin at work in his body. In what ways do you personally empathise with his struggle?
Q 2- Paul is clear however that he ultimately emerges victorious, as does every believer who stands firm in Christ (Rom 8:31-38). How have you experienced Christ’s “rescue” in areas of your life where the war was most fiercely fought?
|< Week 1||Week 3 >|