Today is my Dad’s birthday. I spoke at the memorial service for a friend’s father on the weekend. I’ve modified those words slightly, but thought I would share them with you. Miss you, Dad.
In January 2014 I enjoyed the privilege of my first visit to Israel. One of many special experiences was time to reflect while visiting the Church of the Beatitudes, located at the top of the mount where Jesus of Nazareth spoke to thousands assembled down the sides of the big hill.
Matthew 5 records the event, with these opening words:
Seeing the crowds, he [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…”
This talk was shared with what was perhaps the largest gathering of people ever to hear Jesus speak. It kind of makes you wonder, why would Jesus start perhaps the most significant public talk he ever gave with words of blessing for the poor in spirit and those who mourn?
The Teacher begins his monumentally important message, delivered from high above the shore of Galilee, with words of promise for those wrestling with the realities of life’s challenges, including some of life’s most difficult questions.
“Why has this happened?” “Why did events unfold the way they did?” “Why do I feel so powerless?” “What can I do about it now?”
It may seem little consolation to know that we live in an imperfect world, where difficulties and death are very real parts of life. Even for those who accept the story of a long ago garden where the first sin plunged our world into disarray, it may be of little comfort to consider the truth that our lives are daily impacted by the brokenness of living in a fallen world. That truth is most difficult to grasp when the brokenness is directly impacting us in ways that cause almost uncontrollable emotion within us.
The pain, questions, even feelings of helplessness are balanced by one thing. Realizing that God is Lord over all of it. He knows. He knows us. He knows what we are experiencing. In and through it all, He remains God. The God who is ready, willing and waiting for us.
Remarkably, He is a God – He is the God – who hurts. He hurts with us, and hurts for us, in our difficulties. He doesn’t back away from us in our struggles and imperfections. He draws nearer with words that remind us that our weakness is known to Him; and, He responds to us in our weakness.
Do you remember the shortest verse in the Bible? It’s just two words. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Jesus’ friend had died. Jesus wept.
Jesus knew He was about to perform an amazing miracle that would bring his friend Lazarus back to life. But, He wept.
Did Jesus miss His friend? Or, were those tears for Lazarus’ family and friends? Tears of empathy and understanding in their loss.
God knows when we are hurting. He knows each of us is hurting with varying degrees of hurt. God knows that it is the rare death where the survivors, those who remain to carry on, don’t have regrets about words unspoken or deeds undone – whether their own words or deeds or those they hoped for from the deceased. But, time ran out. The words remained unsaid. The deeds undone. Future plans not able to be fulfilled.
The question is, “Are we willing to admit that we’re hurting?” God isn’t just aware of the hurt, He feels the hurt right along with us. He knows we need reassurance in our time of loss, and He offers it. He guaranteed it in public before thousands of witnesses.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
We. Will. Be. Comforted. But, only if we let Him comfort us.
I’ve spoken at a lot of funerals. I didn’t know the man whose funeral I spoke at on the weekend and I don’t know most of you, your life’s story. I do know that when death intervenes, you will consider that your relationship with your loved one or friend could likely have been better than it was, and also had some shining moments you hope you will never forget. And, I know that there are and will be moments when you will need a sense of comfort as you reflect on the relationship. Those moments continue long after you think they should have come to an end.
God has promised His comfort. But, only if we let Him comfort us.
More than comfort alone, God Who is empathetic and understanding is also loving and wise. If we trust Him, He will make use of the troubles of life, and the mourning that comes with life’s ending, to meet with us and build into our lives something good that wasn’t there before. Although, often we won’t realize it until sometime later. If we’re not looking for Him, we might not even realize it was God who met us in our moment of need.
For now, let me encourage you to rest in the simple understanding that God is good, even when life seems bad. He cares for us, even when we don’t know He’s there. He has promised to comfort those who mourn. He keeps His word. He is committed to connect with those who admit their need of His love and care, and to build a relationship with us when we do.