Greatly honored are the mourners, for they will be comforted. --Mt. 5:4
Greatly honored are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
But shame on you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. --Lk. 6:21b, 25b
Much is said today about listening to the voices of the global church. And yet, when our sisters and brothers from the rest of the church speak, it can often leave us uncomfortable. We are often unprepared to hear their grief, their anger, and their calls for justice because it makes demands on us and our way of life.
So it is with the Accra Confession, the confession that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches passed back in 2004 and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) affirmed in 2010. All told, the WCRC represents 80 million Reformed Christians, most of whom live in the global south.
Listen to what they say:
The annual income of the richest 1 per cent is equal to that of the poorest 57 per cent.
24,000 people die each day from poverty and malnutrition.
The HIV and AIDS global pandemic afflicts life in all parts of the world, affecting the poorest where generic drugs are not available.
The majority of those in poverty are women and children.
The number of people living in absolute poverty on less than one US dollar per day continues to increase.
As Christians, what should be our response to these realities? How do we hear Christ's beatitudes when this is the state of our world?
When we read Jesus' teaching to the disciples—“Greatly honored are the weepers and mourners”—it is easy to envision Jesus speaking to those in our own communities who have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, pensions.We see those recently affected by the floods and winds of Hurricane Irene and the earthquake in Virginia. Surely we see those in our own churches who have difficult times and can find no comfort.
And, in two weeks, on September 11, 2011, we will remember a time of great mourning in our nation, a time in which thousands of people died in New York and Washington DC and Pennsylvania; a time when Muslim sisters were afraid to walk in public in head coverings; a time when we went to war.
I honor our need to mourn all of these sorrows. None of them is unimportant. None of them is insignificant to our Triune God who sees our sorrows and knows our cries.
But if we seek to honor only those mourners we see, we may be missing a call to live as the whole body of Christ in the world. After all, as Paul says, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Corinthians 12:21).
Perhaps the call to us from the second beatitude is not a call to choose which mourners we will honor, but to listen, to be challenged by, and to honor all those who mourn: families of dead men, women and children on both sides of conflicts; the hungry here and in Somalia; women, men and children who die from HIV and AIDS, regardless of whether they contracted it from heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, drug addiction or blood-infusion; those who are losing their livelihood in this country, and those who, because of our policies and the policies of the richest nations of the world, have never had a real livelihood in nations all over the world.
For Jesus does calls us to take sides, but not in the right/left, conservative/progressive categories of our current debates. Rather, Jesus teaches his disciples on the mountain that the way of Christ is to take sides with the victims—those who mourn, who refuse to stop mourning, who find no comfort in this world and no hope for comfort in the future. Jesus calls us to side with the professional mourners and the weepers, those who raise their voices in sorrow and protest, not because they are sinless but because we are Christ's disciples.
Not to do so is to risk becoming those who laugh—those who laugh because they do not see any pain in the world or any need for tears; and those who laugh mocking those who weep as somehow deserving of their pain. It is against these laughers that Jesus pointedly issues his charge: "Woe to you", or as KC Hanson has argued, "Shame on you who are laughing now."
In 1966, reformed theologian Karl Barth said:
"The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need - according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."
Perhaps that is one way we may honor those who mourn. Perhaps, as people of faith, this month we should read every newspaper article, watch every television program, listen to every radio program with this verse of the Bible in mind. And as we read, or listen, or watch, perhaps we should pray, "Lord Jesus, show me those who mourn and teach me how to honor them."
For the world of mourners is bigger, and the sound of mourning is greater, than anything we can hear even in the world around us. But God hears this sound, and God calls the church, as the body of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit, to pay attention.
In the Accra Confession, Reformed Christians from around the world are trying to do just that. Will we listen? Will we honor those who mourn, as Christ commanded us?
We believe that God calls us to hear the cries of the poor and the groaning of creation and to follow the public mission of Jesus Christ who came so that all may have life and have it in fullness (Jn 10.10). Jesus brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; he frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind (Lk 4.18); he supports and protects the downtrodden, the stranger, the orphans and the widows. —Accra Confession, 28.
(PS: One of the best resources for understanding this beatitude is the excellent skit by Gusti Newquist on the Horizons website. Look for it as the second of the Role-Playing skits, titled "The Faces of the Beatitudes: Skits from the Time of Jesus".)