It’s the Same Space

One of the problems with our tendency to avoid feeling sorrow is that we miss one of the key blessings Jesus talks about: the blessing of being comforted (Matthew 5:4).

The truth is life is hard.

There are going to be times when you’re going to hurt.

No amount of effort can really protect you from that.

So the question isn’t “will I experience loss?”  Of course you will.  The answer to that question is yes.  You’ll experience loss.  Everyone does.

The real question is, “in your loss, will you experience comfort?”

And that depends.  That depends on whether you avoid the feelings connected to loss or your mask the feelings connected to loss or you allow yourself to truly mourn.

The blessing of feeling the pain, the blessing of mourning, Jesus says, is comfort.  

Not distance from the pain.  Not numbness of the pain. Comfort.

Comfort is something different from the pain that enters the pain-filled place and changes it.

The word Jesus uses (that we translate “comfort”) evokes the picture of a trusted friend coming alongside you and holding our hand.

It’s the same word Jesus uses when He talks about the Holy Spirit.

In this moment of being comforted, something very powerful happens: this place where you feel pain becomes the place where you experience God’s loving presence.  It’s the same place.

I’ve sat with people in deep grief who have said to me “I didn’t even know I could feel this kind of pain.”

It’s like the sorrow has carved out a new place in their heart, created this all new cavity that wasn’t there before.  And this space that pain makes becomes the space that the presence of God can fill.  It’s the same space.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Pain is good.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “Seek sadness.”

But he does say that there is a blessing in mourning – that sorrow carves out new space in our hearts where nothing except the presence of God will help, but that the presence of God will help – and that in our sadness we will be comforted.

[ You can hear the whole sermon, “Why Are You Crying?” here.]

Ash Wednesday

This tradition emerges somewhere in the 10th century in which Christians begin the season of Lent with a gathering centered around receiving the mark of the cross in ashes on their foreheads.

Ashes: symbolize our desperate need,

The Cross: is the symbol of our great hope in Christ,

The forehead: communicates our core identity.

And frankly, aside from baptism and communion, it is difficult for me to imagine a more perfect image of the gospel than the mark of the cross, in ashes, on my forehead.

In other words, what is Christianity?

It’s the message that I am, fundamentally,

a sinner saved by the grace of God in Christ.

I was dead, but Jesus has given me life.

That’s who I am.  That’s my core identity.

And admitting and embracing the truth of who I am is the

first step toward a whole-hearted relationship with Jesus.


And so this is the ancient tradition:

I approach a minister who traces the cross on my forehead with ashes while he looks me in the eyes and says, “Nathan, from dust you have come and to dust you will return.  So turn from your sin and believe the good news!”