The lost art of mourning

It was a typical Sunday at church.  Morning worship, the sound of voices lifted in unison, a transcendence as the presence of God inhabited our singing; the warmth of the candles, the liturgy, the people of God assembling again to celebrate Jesus.  I made my way to the communion table, as we offer this sacrament every Sunday during worship time.  Stepping up to receive the body and blood of Jesus, what seemed like an incongruity stopped me in my tracks.

A woman in her early twenties stood a few feet from the table, propped up by the wall, sobbing.  Her pain was obvious, difficult to watch, and known to many of us: she had just lost a child to miscarriage.  These two things merged at once in my mind: the incredible miracle of forgiveness that is the linchpin of our faith, and the mourning and agony without which it would not be possible.

Of all the ways we strive to be like Jesus, perhaps we least identify with his mourning.  But there is something necessary in mourning, and in sharing in Jesus’ sufferings we become stronger people.

In Matthew’s gospel account Jesus bares his soul to his disciples as he prepares to bear the cross: “I am deeply grieved to the point of death.”

Have you ever felt this way?  Maybe you have, but to admit it might make you feel ashamed or perhaps misunderstood.  But I think we can find tremendous comfort in Jesus’ words here.  His statement is not a permission for us to drown in narcissistic self-pity and victimization as we are inclined to do.  Rather it communicates to all who follow Jesus that sometimes we will carry a bitterness that would destroy us, and perhaps there is something positive in that experience.

But we, especially in the first world, have lost the art of mourning.  Robert Bly notes, “How can we look at the cinders side of things when the society is determined to create a world of shopping malls and entertainment complexes in which we are made to believe that there is no death, disfigurement, illness, insanity, poverty, or misery?”

Our Disneyland culture has insulated us from the proper mourning experience, and the church has participated in this ruse.  The idea that we need to put on our best to be in front of God and other people seems to me to contradict Jesus’ description of himself as a hospital for the damaged rather than a dog and pony show for the perfect.  Maybe instead of our best shirt and makeup, we should wear grief and sorrow to church.  And every church that is a place for the broken should have boxes of tissues scattered liberally throughout the facility.

Sorrow for sorrow’s sake is not fruitful.  But there is a healthy and necessary way to grieve.  It is part of the process that heals us from tragedy.  To grieve means that we are swallowing the bitter pill that life has given us in this season.  It means that we accept our cross, our circumstance, and incorporate it into our life rather than refuse it.  To deny this experience is to declare that we are immune to pain, that we are in control and unwilling to accept anything that unhinges us, that we are properly composed and need not let anyone know that we are really broken.  You can do this for hours or maybe years, but it will turn you into a hard and bitter person, and you will become unable to experience any sympathy or compassion for others because your heart is covered over by a crust of self-reliance.

But taking the hard road of ashes is a good thing.  Jesus did it, and because of this he understands our mourning.  He is not scared of nor offended by our pain.  And in turn, we can walk into the suffering of others, offering comfort.

Ten years later, the young lady at the beginning of my story is still part of our church.  She was embraced by many who bore her burdens and let her be weak.  Through this she experienced the love of the church and the love of Jesus himself.

Would that we would give ourselves and those around us the permission to be like Jesus in this.  Loosen up your collar, bear your soul, stop pretending, and you will find healing, and be able to offer it to others.  It makes for a healthy church and a healthy heart.

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At VCC, we believe that church is not a function: it is a family. Our religion is only as alive as we are, the people that pursue it. So, rather than acting as an organization, we want to act as an organism. We have no time for casual contacts and meaningless formalities. We are a fellowship on an adventure towards the stuff of God. Church means worshipping God together, studying the Bible together, fixing our cars together, hiking together, eating together, playing together, praying together... enjoying the warmth of the Holy Spirit in all parts of our lives together, not just in appointed meeting times.