“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” - Ecclesiastes 7:4 Emperor Xerxes fastidiously pressed down his signet ring, just so, straight and neat, into the warm, gooey wax. The impression of the royal symbol was perfect, every detail clearly visible, just as he liked it. With a smirk he handed the scroll to his best friend and royal courtier, Haman, whose look of satisfaction shone with confident victory. “Let copies be sent to the satraps,” said the Emperor. “Give this to the steward. He will have it handed over to the scribes to distribute throughout the Empire. Then come back. Let us sit down and enjoy a few drinks.” The decree went out. On a certain day, about eleven months from now, all Jews were to be exterminated from Persia and its vast Empire. They could be freely hunted. Their possessions could be taken by the mighty. Their repugnant attachment to their one true God wiped out. When Mordecai, a Jew living near the royal palace, learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. (Esther 4:1-3, ESV). Have you ever seen such a sight–not in movies, mind you, but in flesh-and-blood life? I haven’t. What you and I would expect to see is a protest. Angry chanting, screams of rage, and violence would be directed at whoever is perceived to be an unjust oppressor and at whatever is considered a tool of oppression, a cog in the systemic problem. Of course, some protests achieve their purpose and some do not. Why? Successful protests are not an uprising of the people. Successful protests originate from the princes of this world, who organize, fund, and use their protesting peons as a club against the unenlightened masses. It’s a neat trick. “We are only responding to the voice of the people,” they will say, blaming you, while they were the ones behind it all along. Meanwhile, unsuccessful protests are those true grassroots efforts that have little funding, little organization, and no elite will beforehand directing the purpose of the protest. If you are not a prince of this world, if you are not already poised to enact and enforce changes that supposedly originate from the demands of protesters, but were always your preferred path to begin with… then what can you do? What should you do? Mourn. Protests pretend to call princes to account with self-righteous demands. How very different mourning is. Mourning–properly directed–goes in abasement to the Great King, the Lord Almighty, and asks him to be merciful. Mourning addresses the Creator of Heaven and Earth and says, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love” (Psalm 51:1). Mourning cries out, “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” (Psalm 30:9-10). Mourning makes no demands, but only humbly calls out for mercy, knowing that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). To be sure, the wise mourner knows that he cannot dictate the answer to his humble request. The wise mourner knows that he cannot dictate the timeline for answering his request. The wise mourner knows only this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39). The wise mourner, then, repeats these words of life to himself: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14). So let the wise mourn. The wise will mourn first of all over their own sins. They will go to God in repentance, recognizing their own wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Then, as appropriate, the wise may also mourn for their community. Perhaps your family or your congregation has a blind spot for certain sins, which it ignores or even winks at. This is certainly an appropriate reason for mourning. Perhaps you wish to mourn for your people–the village, county, state, or nation in which you live. Especially if you seek to mourn over the sinful thoughts, words, and actions of a group or community, carefully maintain your frame that mourning does not come with a self-righteous heart, but with a recognition of your own unworthiness and a fervent plea for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Yet, do we even know how to mourn? The hustle of Western Civilization bends ever toward entertainment, toward the anesthetizing pleasure of “fun.” The culture we all swim in must recast even funerals as “celebrations of life” (not Jesus’ life, sad to say). We are allergic to mourning, even when someone we love is totally separated from us (hopefully only in this age). It is not absolutely necessary to wear potato sacks and throw ashes on your head, but are you capable of mourning? There is no Ceremonial Law for those baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. If your Christian discernment leads you to other methods for mourning, God bless it. However, let the wise who wish to mourn consider the following options. Perhaps a sincere period of mourning to the Lord could involve putting aside your favorite mundane pleasures for a while to focus on prayer, Bible study, and contemplation. Rather than coming home from work to focus on your favorite TV show, video game, social media feed, or outdoor hobby, purposefully set aside such things–even good and godly pleasures of the earth–so that you may cry out to the King in prayer and receive the promises of his Word. Biblical examples of mourning often include fasting as well. Again, this is a voluntary expression of mourning, and it is by no means easy. However, denying oneself the pleasure of food and willingly experiencing the discomfort of hunger, is a way to express the sincerity of your mourning. It serves as a regular physical reminder to the soul that we are dependent on the mercy of the Lord. The length of your mourning is a personal decision. Choose what is fitting and be content in that. Should you encourage others to mourn with you, that is, to commit to some regimen of mourning together? At times, large groups of the Israelites mourned. Oftentimes they were exhorted to mourn by a leader who set the example first (e.g., Ezra and Nehemiah). Other times, a man of God mourned for his people alone, trusting that God would hear and be faithful to His good promises (e.g., Daniel 9). You will need to use your Christian judgment. What is certain is that no one should exhort others to mourn if he will not authentically do so himself. The times and days are perilous. When disaster strikes or when tyrants parade wickedness around as if it were righteousness, shall we simply sing, dance, laugh, and be merry? Let the wise consider carefully the words of St. James: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10) … “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
An excellent reminder, especially in these gray and latter days. Keep it coming!