Grief is tangible. It sulks heavily in the air and drapes over the shoulders of all who bear it. It's even contagious, prompting the human soul into depths of compassion unknown, spurring us to express this cathartic reaction known as mourning.
In John chapter 11, the Gospel portrays Jesus in a state of mourning. It is here Jesus receives word that his beloved friend Lazarus has died. He looks with compassion into the grieving eyes of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, and feels deeply the sadness of the community.
Scripture describes Jesus as being “deeply moved” and that his spirit was “greatly troubled” at this time. And the most remarkable element of this story is that shortly thereafter Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead.
What was the first action Jesus took in the wake of such tragedy? He wept and mourned outside Lazarus’ tomb.
What does this remarkable passage in scripture teach to us about mourning? How does it relate to the second pillar of the beatitudes, “Blessed are they who mourn?”
Let’s unpack the definition of mourning, what Jesus teaches us about mourning in the earthly sense and how his preaching calls us to mourn in a deeper spiritual sense.
What is the Definition of Mourning?
Mourning is defined as an outward expression of grief. It also connotes a state of great sadness or grieving. We mourn in response to the loss of something, or more commonly, someone.
We mourn for our own losses, but we may also mourn from a place of compassion for what others have lost.
The Latin root for compassion is “pati,” which means “to suffer,” and the prefix “com” means “with.” Therefore, compassion literally means “to suffer with.” When we mourn on behalf of another’s loss, we share in the weight of their suffering.
This is precisely what Jesus exemplified as he wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He mourned the loss of his friend and also mourned on behalf of Lazarus’ sisters and the community affected by his death.
God Comforts Those Who Mourn: How God is Present in Our Earthly Mourning
When God became incarnate, he took on all aspects of humanity—the physical, mental and emotional conditions. He did this so that we would never experience or endure anything that he did not already take upon himself.
At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus experienced the very real human condition of mourning. God comforts us in our own mourning here on earth as he knows its pain intimately.
Jesus calls us “blessed” in this state of mourning in that we ought to rejoice in the fact that death has lost its finality. We know that the story does not end at the Calvary but is brought to fruition at the empty tomb three days later.
Furthermore, when we suffer and mourn, Jesus mourns with us and invites us to unite our sufferings to his. This gives our mourning new meaning: that we are not alone and the savior of the world bears the heaviest of grief with us.
Evoking Eden: The Spiritual Significance of Blessed are They Who Mourn
The deeper meaning of “blessed are they who mourn” finds its roots in the Garden of Eden. In the typical sense of mourning, we envision grieving the loss of lives, hopes and dreams. In the deeper, more spiritual definition of this pillar of the Beatitudes, God is calling us to mourn the very state of our fallen nature.
Jesus calls us to actively mourn the loss of union with him, which was severed at the fall of man when sin entered the world. He calls us to mourn our sins, as they are the very acts that distance us from him.
In this mourning of our sins, we realize our intense need for God and his mercy. We recognize our flaws and how we are desperate for the love of God to mend our sinfulness.
However, God does not simply leave us desolate in this mourning, wallowing without hope for salvation. He kindly calls us back to his Sacred Heart and comforts us in the truth that salvation has been won for us.
Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Comfort For Those Who Mourn
Whether our mourning is felt in the depths of our human heart aching the loss of a loved one or bemoaning our sinful state, this mourning brings to light our need for God. In our need, Jesus offers consolation, love and hope.
The twofold meaning of mourning calls to mind the great paradox of the Christian life. That is, that grief and mourning are permitted by God in this life only to bring good from ill. After all, Jesus did mourn the death of Lazarus only to raise him from his tomb.
In our mourning, we must always remember the words of St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Romans 8:18).