Sunday, January 19, 2014

MLK & Happy Mourning

Considering Matthew 5.4:  Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

We might translate this passage in various ways:

Blessed the mourning ones among us, for they shall  receive comfort and their mourning shall not have been in vain – consolation, the full realization that what they mourned has passed away, shall be their knowledge, their joy.

Privileged are the broken hearted among us:  they shall know the consolation of change.

Blissful mourners:  in your mourning lie the seeds of change, which will be your consolation.

O the blessedness of the mourning ones!  Consolation is yours!

Comfort, consolation, here has the sense of God as companion, for the Greek word means coming alongside.  So we might say:

Privileged mourning ones!  God walking beside you – comfort!


In the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, the chorus’ 2nd line: morning by morning, new mercies I see, came to me today not in terms of the morning dawn of each new day but as the sorrowful, grieving mourning, “mourning by mourning, new mercies I see” – as one sorrow takes us to the next and the next and the next . . .

Tomorrow is MLK day, when we remember the work and sacrifice of Dr. King.  He began working for his own people: the people of color in Montgomery, Alabama . . . but he was moved from there to a movement that embraced the entirety of the South and then into the north . . . and from there to the vagaries and violence of the war in Viet Nam and from there to the conditions of poverty throughout our land . . . from there to standing alongside the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, where he would be killed so we cannot know where he would have gone from there . . .

But virtually his entire ministry was encompassed by a movement from mourning to mourning, from cause for sorrow to cause for sorrow, yet moving in the sure and certain and true conviction that consolation was always present . . . not fully realized, but always present.  

This consolation is easy to understand (when you’ve experienced it) but right difficult to explain:  it’s the knowledge of the grieving mother that she will see her son again in the sweet by and by . . . of the soldier standing on the field of battle surrounded by the fallen dead at the moment when the victory is won . . . of the moment when a lawyer pleads with an opponent to understand that this is wrong and sees a glimmer of understanding in their eyes . . . change hasn’t yet happened, but it is coming and mourning and promise stand together, hand in hand.

The mourners among us are the ones who see things as they are and know they do not have to be thus . . . sorrow is their response.

Blessed are they, for they do not mourn in vain.

This is not merely the sorrow of inevitable loss, such as death.

This is the soul-invading Spirit sorrow at a world gone awry.

This the praying, beseeching, pleading sorrow of a saint on his knees before his God. . . the sorrow for the hunger of children she’ll never meet . . . the broken tears shed for a world that cannot, that will not, imagine another, better way.

Put another way, Jesus might have said . . . consider yourselves lucky for the pain-in-the-neck cry babies among you . . . the ones always reminding you about Somalia and Syria and Israel-Palestine and Congo and Iran and Iraq . . . the ones whose tears never end and who insist that things not only should, but can, change . . . lucky you to have such people living among you – for they will make you better and in the making, God will comfort them.

On the night before he died, Dr. King spoke of hypothetically being given the chance by God to choose in which time he would live and in his choosing, said this, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's . . . strange . . . the world is all messed up . . . Trouble is in the land. . . . But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. . .

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan, Dr. King made the point that the question is not: if I help this man, what will happen to me?  Rather, the question is always, if I do not help this man, what will happen to him?  

Dr. King concluded the last speech he would ever give famously and prophetically saying, Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.  

The mourning ones among us, like the rest of us, live as long as they live.  They eat and drink, they laugh and make jokes.  They watch tv and read the papers and go to church . . . or not.  They raise their families.  And they watch and see and read the signs of the times.

And in their reading live their tears, which God has blessed for the benefit of us all.

For them, there is special blessing – the blessing of knowing the right question to ask (what will happen to them?) . . . the blessing of a heart able to break over the things that should break a heart . . . the blessing of seeing the land of promise and like Moses and Dr. King and so many others, that is enough and more than enough.

God walks alongside the mourning ones among us, whispering the comfort that will be theirs: O blessed are they!


  1. As a person who has spent a good portion of last year mourning, I found this blog provacitive.

    It made me stop to think about Dr. King and standing on the plains of Moab and my own reaction to the joy showed by Dr. King in beging called to work for God.

    I did my own work on this text in semminary- and to be honest it did not offer any comfort-- I did not want the blessing of seeing the things that could be in the things that were not. It never felt like a blessing to me. I railed against this text and made it my goal to find something other than what I had learned-- to hold on to- becasue my other reaction was to throw it away!

    Now-- in years removed and life lived and new "mournings by mournings" I have seen- maybe I have gained wisdom or maybe I have found the blessings.

    Your blog touched on those blessing in a concrete way for the first time ever in my life of reading scripture with a critial eye.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Melissa, Wow. What a wonderful and humbling comment. Life and all it brings us has a funny way of teaching, eh? One of the things I love about the privilege of wrestling with these texts is the new eyes I'm given at different times and stages of my life. The Good News is always, somehow, new news. Grateful, Beth