Those Who Mourn

by | Jan 30, 2023 | Sermons | 0 comments

January 29, 2023

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-4, 28:1-10

I don’t suppose I’ve ever chosen an image for the cover of the bulletin that seems on the surface to have so little to do with the topic of the morning: “Blessed are those who mourn.” What does that have to do with whitewater rafting?

So let’s get right to it so you don’t have to fret about that any more. Not so terribly long ago – 25 yrs ago – my daughters talked me into my one and only whitewater rafting experience and they picked the Gauley River in W. Va (rated by one source as the third best whitewater rafting river in the US).

On the night before the experience, the news was about a man who, that day, had lost his life doing the same thing I was about to do. He got thrown from the raft, caught in an undertow, and couldn’t get free.

The trip itself was exciting, to say the least! Our guide was skilled and she steered us around and between the rocks and over what seemed like cliffs, and through impossible turns and yelled at us from the back instructions about who should paddle hard and who should lay off!

As we approached the final rapids, she announced that if everyone was up for it, she would dump us all out of the raft and let us body surf through the straits feet first and she would pick us up on the other side! I was the oldest one there and she said: “If he’s with us, we’ll do it! Keep your feet in front of you, trust me, trust the current and the equipment and let go!”

I know that you’re just dying to hear the rest of the story! I lived through it! We all did! It was

one of the most exhilarating times of my life! I can’t describe what it felt when we stepped out of the raft on the far end having survived and having dared.

The euphoria of that moment was not just about surviving, but also such gratitude for a guide who has been there and knows what she is doing and where she is going. It is about a new awareness of not just the terror of the river, but also it is also about gratitude for the buoyancy of the water, and energy of the current to carry you through!

Now, I know that nobody HAS to go whitewater rafting in their lives in order to be whole or fulfilled, and I know that you don’t, in the normal course of a lifetime, have to traverse the Gauley through the middle of the rapids. But I also know that nobody gets out of this life without having to face some unbelievably frightening and heart wrenching times when you look death in the face and you become acquainted with grief and mourning!

Those times are as much a part of living as the green pastures and still waters! It is so important to live with an abiding acquaintance with a great guide! Of course many of us know what it is to wait until we are in the middle of one of life’s thundering rapids and THEN call out for help from our Creator. But it is so much better to have an ongoing relationship with the one who put us together in the first place so that when the rough waters are inevitable, there is one beside us who knows the way!

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Now, make no mistake about it, when Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn”, he was in no way saying our grief is no more than a rough ride down the river. Nobody knew grief and mourning like Jesus knew it. He understood grief in all its forms – dying, loss, betrayal, hopelessness, and reversals. He would never be one to minimize your grief or mourning.

But it is exactly his acquaintance with grief that makes him such a great comforter and guide. We do well to stay close and listen to his instructions so that through every bend in the river, we are accompanied by the very best!

It’s fair to ask yourself if all this is just theory or if it really works. Here is Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry, preaching a sermon about ideas and belief. It’s early and untested in a way.

Let’s fast forward to the real rapids, the rough waters, and big moments of mourning in Jesus’ life. Let’s look at the end of the book of Matthew, the trial and sentencing to death of Jesus on trumped-up charges, and the unthinkable loss of Jesus’ followers.

You all know how the 12 disciples dealt with it all. They scattered to the four winds. Some weren’t to be seen. Some watched from a distance. But Mary Magdalene never flinched, never ran, never abandoned the one who had been her savior, her guide!

As Jesus died on that cross, she and the other Mary were right there at his feet. When they

put him into the tomb and Matthew paints the picture of the guards straining to roll the great stone over the entrance to the tomb, the text says: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.”

And yes, three days later, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there again! Where else would they be? Being WITH Jesus had become for them life-giving! They couldn’t imagine being somewhere else when the waters became violent! And they grieved!

Mary sat there by that tomb that morning and all she could do was weep! Mourning is not easy! It’s some of the hardest work we ever do.

But while she wept, something happened to her. She knew a presence that was the very presence of Jesus again. It happened to her in three days. It could happen in 3 or 30 or 300 days, but finally Jesus appeared and asked her: “Why are you crying?” “Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have taken him.”

And then Jesus said: “Mary.” Nobody could say her name like Jesus did! It was her guide and it was unmistakable and crystal-clear.

It was pure COMFORT in the middle of excruciating grief. It was the voice of her guide. Forever different, but forever the same.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Pastor Don Crist