by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 29, 2017:
The text for this week is deceptively simple: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
We might assume that Jesus is talking about Heaven, a time when we will be reunited with our loved ones and find the ultimate comfort. Or maybe we say that we're all comforted eventually, because time passes and we get used to our losses.
We forget, or never knew, how Christ's listeners would hear this text. They did not have the benefit of modern psychology that instructs us in the best ways to mourn and how to emerge on the other side a healthier person. Christ's listeners would have a very different idea of what happens when we die: perhaps there would be a reunion with loved ones, but it would be in a very distant time after we've all laid in the cold earth a very long time.
The idea of a mourner being called out for blessing would be very odd indeed. Mourners are those who have lost much--how can they be blessed? It's those who don't mourn who are blessed--right?
Those of us who have mourned deeply may also be baffled. How can we be blessed when hollowed out with grief. We may look at our pre-mourning time and feel like we've been exiled to a distant land. We may look with envy on those who have never experienced mourning. We may tell ourselves that those who mourn are cursed, not blessed.
This message is central to the teaching of Jesus. Everything we thought we knew will be overturned. Christ has come to overturn the natural order of our societies, an order which doesn't work very well for many of us.
Most of us will not escape mourning--but the central message of Christianity is that death does not have the final answer. We will not be exiled in the land of grief forever.