Our family watched the Good Morning America special segment with Steven Curtis Chapman & family this morning, and I realized that this short interview said infinitely more than any sermon I could try to preach about hope and joy in the midst of grief and sorrow. Be sure to watch the video embedded in the site. What a powerful story!
(*UPDATE* Here’s the video if you can’t find it for some reason)
This past Sunday’s sermon dealt with very similar emotions and I hope it was an encouragement to all of us as we remember that joy does come in the morning. Some of us are still waiting for that morning to come, but God can turn our mourning into dancing.
We don’t have audio from this Sunday’s service (although I might try to make a ‘studio version’ of the sermon later in the week. If I do, I’ll make sure to post a link here). For now, you’ll just have to read the text from this week’s sermon.
As I look around the room this morning, I see two different groups of people. Now, as you look around the room, you might be trying to come up with the categories I’m thinking of. You might be thinking of gender or age. Could it be body shape? Some of us are shorter. Some are taller. Or maybe it’s people who can cook and those who can’t. Those who can swim and those who can’t? Or maybe it’s the people who sit on this side of the Sanctuary compared with those who sit on the other side. It’s none of those things that I’ve mentioned. The two groups that are here this morning are people who are experiencing that sorrow and grief right now, and those who have experienced sorrow and grief in the past. I’d venture to say that 100% of us in this room fall into one of these two groups. Because, no matter how much we might wish this weren’t the case, sorrow and grief are a guaranteed part of life.
It’s not really the way God originally intended it to be – it’s not part of His original plan. Things were perfect once, in the Garden. When God created Adam and Eve, they walked with Him in the coolness of the morning, sharing a close friendship between the created and their Creator. But that all changed the day they chose to eat of the fruit they were forbidden to eat. With that willful disobedience of God’s command, sin was ushered into what was God’s perfect creation. And the destruction brought about by the introduction of sin into the world continues to cut across all of the created universe, leaving an ugly scar. And we stand here today in a world that is disfigured and disrupted by the ugly stain of sin that impacts everything around us. And the end result is that there is pain and suffering, grief and sorrow. We, along with the rest of creation, long for the day when the stain of sin will be no more, but while we wait we’re forced to encounter grief and sorrow. It’s part of the human experience.
When you think of biblical examples of people going through grief and sorrow, most people probably think of Job first. Job was a righteous man who had it all, including wealth and a family; and he lost it all in one day. The book of Job deals with his attempt to make sense of the sorrow and grief he was experiencing.
Jesus, of course, deals with grief and sorrow during his ministry on earth. In what we call the Beatitudes section of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be…comforted” (Mt. 5:4). And we know that he experienced grief and sorrow himself. In John ch. 11, when Jesus is standing before the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, we are told in the shortest verse in all of the Bible that “Jesus wept.” (Jn 11:35). Although it’s only two words long, this verse is not short in meaning. The Son of God, the creator of all of the universe, was moved to tears when he came face-to-face with the death of his friend and the horrible impact it had made on those around him. And so when he talks with his disciples a few verses later in Jn 16:20, he’s not speaking from inside some kind of a vacuum when he says “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” He knows the pain of sorrow and grief. He knows what it’s like to mourn. He experienced the same things that we go through as part of this fallen world. All of us have either gone through a time of sorrow and grief, or are experiencing it right now. And if you’re in this second group, the one going through a time of darkness, I want you to know that the darkness will not last forever. Jesus’ promise to His disciples that their grief will turn to joy is also a promise to us, too. Don’t believe me? Sound too far-fetched? Well, turn with me to the book of Psalms, ch. 30. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Psalm 30 is found on page 479 in that Bible. As you’re probably aware, we’ve been on a journey through the book of Psalms the past few weeks, discovering how the songs and prayers of the people who were following the Lord over 2,500 years ago might not be too different from our songs and our prayers today. They were created out of very real experiences and the worship reflects it. Our worship does the same thing, reflects the real experiences we have as we offer everything we have and all that we are back to the Lord. And so with that understanding, we turn to Psalm 30 today.
Now, we don’t know the exact context that surrounds the authorship of this song. The title tells us that it’s for the dedication of the temple, but that doesn’t really tell us a whole lot, since David didn’t live to see the construction of the temple. His son, Solomon, was the one responsible for the building and dedication of the temple. A literal translation of the word the NIV translates as “temple” really means “house of cedar.” Some scholars argue that this could be David’s palace instead of the temple. Others say it’s a song that was used when David purchased the plot of land where the temple was to be built, thus, dedicating it to the Lord. Whatever the historical event that this song was used for, it’s still a song that speaks to us today. When David was named by the prophet Samuel to be the new king, Saul pursued him relentlessly. That pursuit took an emotional toll on David and he experienced a form of grief and sorrow because of that. He also suffered the loss of people who were close to him, including his best friend, Jonathan, and the loss of his infant son. Although David was known as a victor, he was also no stranger to tragedy and loss. He was no stranger to grief and sorrow. And with all of this to serve as the background, let us listen to the words of David as he sings praises to the Lord.
The two verses that stick when you hear this psalm are: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (v. 5); and “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (v. 11)
Things can be dark around you. You can be in the middle of the deepest pit, the darkest of valleys, and you might not be able to see any way out. You look at the circumstances surrounding you and you wonder if there’s ever going to be an end to all the darkness and grief. Everywhere you look reminds you of the pain you’re going through and you can’t possibly begin to think that there’s ever a light at the end of this tunnel because all you see is darkness. God promises us that joy is ahead.
I’m not talking about some fake – pretend like everything’s OK when in reality it’s not – kind of plastic happiness that people try to pass off as joy. We can’t just sweep the hurt and pain that we’re experiencing under the rug and pretend that everything’s alright when in reality we’re dying inside because of the intense grief and sorrow we’re experiencing. We can’t make ourselves be joyful. And an attempt to pretend that everything’s OK when in reality everything isn’t is lying. It’s lying to ourselves, lying to other people, and it’s lying to the God who wants to take that pain and turn it into something that glorifies Him. And that’s the key. Look again at verse 11. Who turns our wailing into dancing and clothes us with joy? God. Just like with everything else, we need to hand over our grief and our sorrow to God. And watch Him work. Because we can’t do it on our own. We can’t bring real joy into our own lives. We can’t pull ourselves out of the pit of despair. We can’t navigate the valleys on our own. We must turn to Him and allow Him to take what is broken within us and turn it into something full of joy and full of beauty. It’s a joy that comes only from choosing to follow Christ and allow Him to work in our own lives.
This turning mourning to joy and wailing into dancing is not some way we try to minimize the pain and sorrow we experience. Grief and sorrow are very real. The emotions are not something to just be glossed over. But in the midst of pain and suffering, there can still be joy because joy comes in the morning. And so we take the very real emotions that we’re experiencing in the darkness of our lives where it seems to be no end, lay them before the throne, and look forward to the morning.
The greatest morning there ever was – the greatest moment where unspeakable grief and sorrow was turned into overflowing joy took place one Sunday morning in a land half a world away to a group of broken people who thought their lives were over. They were surrounded by darkness and had no idea how to navigate their way out of the grief, suffering, and loss. And that grief and loss was transformed into joy that Sunday morning half a world away. And it’s found in Mark 16:9-10:
” When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.”
On that morning, tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. Cries of mourning turned to shouts of joy. Mary went to the tomb in despair and defeat, but she returned with hope and joy!
Jesus Christ is alive! He is risen. He is here this morning and He wants to meet with you and to surpass all of your expectations! He wants to turn your mourning into joy. Your despair into hope. Your hurts into healing. Your anxiety into peace. Your tears of sorrow into tears of joy. Your cries of mourning into shouts of joy. Just like he has done for countless other people, he wants to turn your dark night into morning. Don’t hold back your sorrow and your grief. Give them over to the Lord and allow Him to turn the hurts you hold inside into unspeakable joy. And wait for the morning.
Of course, we know that as long as we have life here on earth, there will be pain and suffering. It’s part of that scar of sin that impacts all of creation. And so we need to continue giving over our hurts to the One who holds all of Creation in the palm of His hand. And continue looking forward to the morning.
There will be a day where there will be no more tears. No more pain. No more suffering. Just unending joy as we celebrate the Lord in His presence. That is the morning we all look forward to. But until that time, we know that God can turn the sorrows we’re carrying now into joy. He can turn our funeral processions into parades of joy. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it? It’s a good thing that God is the God of the miraculous.