Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
My second year in college, I decided to brave the big world by going on my first year-long mission trip to Majuro, Marshall Islands. Though my official assignment was to teach eighteen first graders, I would soon realize that my assignment included attending to the families and community connected to these students.
During my preparation for this year abroad, I learned about the culture of the island, a mixed population that was behind in technology and experiencing an all-time high diabetic health crisis. In 2006, 83% of the population lived below the U.S. poverty line.
Once I arrived, I remember walking about the streets of Majuro just outside the air-conditioned campus where I lived and feeling both shame for the amenities I enjoyed and a sense of relief that I would be going back to those very amenities. It seemed ironic that I was on this incredible beautiful island to help people yet still distanced from the realities of the people on the other side of the walls where I taught.
Months after being on Island and getting to know the local people, I attended the funeral of a young girl under the age of ten, who had died due to an illness the family could not afford to treat. About ten of us from the campus packed into the campus van. I imagined the 1980s Chrysler minivan once was full of life, but it was now a decaying box of metal, a faded maroon color covered in reddish brown rusted spots from the humidity of the ocean. The once sharply etched brown stripes that ran across the middle of the van were now faded and stretched across the van like crumpled gum wrapper.
We rode in silence at a slow twenty-five miles per hour for thirty minutes to the rural side of the island where the funeral would be held. We watched the tall palm trees sway with the breeze, heard the crash from the ocean on the shores around us, and felt the salt of the ocean sour on our lips. We were not sure what to expect. I remember picturing professional mourners, like in the scene of Jairus’s daughter in the book of John, awaiting us with deep sadness and hopelessness. I also imagined we might be the only attendees as we had heard the family was poor and did not even have funds to host their little one’s funeral at a proper church. Again I felt ashamed I could not do more to help this family burry their little girl well.
But when we arrived at the family's home, we were greeted by what seemed to be the entire population of the island. People filled all the spaces of the family’s home from the inside out! Instead of wailing there was singing, and instead of cowered bodies of sadness there was dancing!
These people had come together to be present for those who seemed forgotten by the world. In the small rural village of Laura, in between the tall palms, crashing waves, warm sand and houses made of tin walls, the poor richly celebrated a child’s life like she had been royalty.
In his Sermon, Jesus describes that those who mourn will be comforted. The Greek word for mourn parakaleō carries an urgency to gather, to come together and to encourage one another. Jesus speaks in Matthew about the Kingdom of God in the present tense to the disciples, and so we also ready in the present tense. It’s an instruction that we urgently seek out those who are mourning around us and intentionally pause to attend to them. Kingdom on Earth calls for us to seek each other out and to attend to each other wholly and not simply for convenience.
Walter Brueggemann describes it this way:
Believers in that [Kingdom] future given by God are able to sing and dance. . . . The vulnerable solidarity of Jesus with the poor, empty and grieving was found to have an authenticity and a power unlike what they had known. (Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination, 2001)
May we lean into all parts of life, together, with urgency, to generate a power like we have never known.