Hopefully, the major problems presented in the COVID-19 pandemic are now behind us. This pandemic was an epidemiological crisis, but also a psychological one. While the situation provoked anxiety, stress, and sadness, it was also a period of collective sorrow. Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in grief mentoring, reports during the pandemic: “It is important that we start recognizing that we are in the middle of this collective grief. We are all losing something now.”
In the Second Beatitude, Matthew reports Jesus’ word concerning mourning or grief: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). What is this “mourning” or grieving? Is it an internal sorrow that is externalized in some form of action?
I would suggest that Jesus’ mourning is a natural consequence of his previous Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Think of mourning as a natural consequence of mourning or grieving over one’s personal spiritual poverty. It is that quality attitude of David, following his encounter with Nathan, the prophet, over his sin with Bathsheba: “My sin is ever before me. Against thee [God], thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:3-4). It is like the publican’s prayer: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:3).
In the context of Isaiah 61, the mourners are those who grieve over their sins, realize the effects of such sin, and recognize their deep need for God’s forgiveness, a forgiveness that motivates God “to grant those who mourn in Zion - to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3).
The bereavement of those mourners in Isaiah’s time stems from their natural loss resulting from their sins and God’s judgment. Specifically, in their time, God’s judgment against the nation resulted in the Babylon Captivity in 587 BCE and the resulting Exile.
It is obvious to many today that America is in a moral decline. The evidence is ample: social injustice, crime, mass shootings, no respect for law and order, political corruption, spiritual poverty, etc. These social problems are always moral and religious problems. Types of government, social reform, and economic adjustments will of themselves help us little. But, if believers will learn to think kindly and justly toward others and seek the common good, our nation will become more what God designed it to be.
As I challenge myself, so I challenge you – as we witness the sin, direction, and fortune of the country and the misplaced standards, our hearts should mourn, first for our own personal failures and then the failures of our nation. God’s promise is: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).