What is next? What’s in the future for Churches of Christ? Some would say that’s the million-dollar question. I, myself, would like to know, too. There are so many trends to observe. There is a litany of directions we could go. The answer is, I’m sure, multi-faceted. I will not claim to have any answer, let alone the answer.
What I hope to do is to help direct our current culture’s aggression that has permeated the church to a healthier place. I believe part of our future as a people is going to be found in mourning. Call me crazy, but there’s no shortage of things to mourn in our day. Instead of taking the world’s bait and responding in outrage, perhaps we ought to join with our ancient brethren and regain the lost art of lamentation.
I’m not talking about just being “sad” at the state of the world. I’m talking about learning how to re-enter into the middle of the messes of the world. I’m talking about taking up the mantle of the ministry of grief again. Co-suffering love is the cruciform symbol of our faith. So, I believe part of the future in the Churches of Christ is relearning how to mourn with one another and for the world.
When I talk about mourning, grief and lamentation, I’m not speaking of the kind we do at a funeral. I’m looking directly at the paradox when Jesus says, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). I love how Brian Zahnd translates this passage. It illustrates the depths that Jesus was plumbing when he let this statement out into the world. Zahnd writes, “Blessed are the depressed who mourn and grieve, for they create space to encounter comfort from one another.” I like that. I mean that we’re intentionally entering a space to give and receive comfort from one another.
So, just who are those who mourn? Scot McKnight says: “Those who mourn,” are those who both grieve in their experiences of sin, tragedy, injustice, death – but also those who reach out to others in compassion when they experience sin, evil, tragedy, and death, too.” That blows the paradox wide open, doesn’t it? It adds a depth that I never realized before to what I thought was self-explanatory.
Brothers and sisters, should we not mourn and grieve for our world and with our world? There is no shortage of things to grieve over in our nation alone. We should be falling on our knees, weeping that racism is still as prevalent, even in our churches, as it always has been. We should mourn with the mothers struggling to feed their babies. We should lament that our nation – the most prosperous and wealthiest in history – is tearing itself apart in anger and hatred. We should be knocked to our faces with the fact that people believe the church ‘hates’ anyone, whether real or perceived. We should mourn with those who mourn things we don’t understand – issues like race, equality, sexism, and justice.
We should sit in the candlelight vigils of those who are taken before their time in tragic circumstances. We should wail when justice is withheld because of corruption. We should mourn when people are exploited, children are trafficked, and drugs kill our neighbors. For too long we’ve sat in judgment of things we know nothing of. It is time to humble ourselves and admit that while we might be ignorant at present of many things, ignorance is not an excuse to ignore and avoid. To enter mourning means we must first mourn the existence of our own prejudices and stereotypes. To enter compassion, we must again embrace the ministry of grief.
The prophet Joel records God’s message on how to get there: ““Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV)
We must return to grief – a chief ministry of the church – and we must begin with ourselves. It is in the ministry of grief that we cut profundity into our souls and make room to be filled with comfort from one another. In this way, grief is understood, not as a reality to be denied, but as a work to be attended to by the church.
Brian Zahnd puts it like this: “In a simple-minded, paper-thin, pseudo-Christian culture where banal happiness seems to be the highest goal, we don’t want to attend to the work of grief; we put it off as an unpleasant task or something beneath our station.” That has costs. If we refuse to attend to the work of grief in our spiritual life and as a body of believers, our soul becomes a austere, infinite, dull wilderness – a kind of barren salt flat where nothing grows.
Maybe that’s been the problem. We’ve lost our ability to ‘feel’ the pain of ourselves and our neighbors. How then, can we love them if we refuse or forget how to enter the most sacred of spaces – grief and mourning with them. Our neighbors and brothers and sisters are mourning so much: marriages, prodigal children, lost causes, broken promises, death, injustice, racism, prejudice, anger, discrimination, and so much more.
Perhaps more, we should grieve the sin of ourselves and the world as we try and lull ourselves into a state of plastic happiness. It is not our Christian duty to enforce a kind of dopey, all-is-well, I’m-just-fine, pretend happiness where we all say a shallow ‘hello’ and then try and get one another to ‘buck, not for their sakes, but for our own because we’ve forgotten how to mourn.
Maybe if we set aside a few times a year to come together and lament – not complain – about the state of the world, then perhaps we could learn to reinsert ourselves into the vocation called ‘mourning.’ When we learn that again, I believe our future will be incredible bright because we will have relearned what it means to truly be human. We will reassume our God-ordained role of “grieving with those who grieve” and in that we will find that we are the recipients of the incredible announcement that, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”