Matthew 5:4 (New International Version)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
One of my spiritual heroes is Henri Nouwen, who wrote this beautiful passage: “Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life is stronger than death, hope is stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”
In our scripture today from the “Beatitudes,” Jesus promises the crowd that those who are grieving will be comforted. The word we translate as “comfort” here is the Greek verb parakaleo, which means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen, and, yes, to comfort. What does this mean? How are we to be comforted in the midst of mourning?
In John 14:16-17, Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would be a guide for the disciples after his death: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– the Spirit of truth.” The word Jesus uses for the “Spirit of truth” is parakletos: the comforter, the encourager, the one called alongside to help. Jesus then promised his friends, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
On that night long ago, Jesus knew that his disciples were about to experience tremendous loss. They had no idea what was coming over the next few hours. Jesus knew that they would soon be grieving the painful death of this man they followed and loved. But he also knew that death was not the end of the story! Jesus’ resurrection was to be the powerful proof of that promise from God. As Henri Nouwen wrote two millennia after the Resurrection, “love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair.”
No matter what we are going through in our lives, no matter what loss we have experienced, God’s Spirit is always available to us for support, love, and guidance. The Comforter is here.
Where do you most need the comfort of the Holy Spirit– the parakletos— in your life right now?