Customs change, sometimes quite quickly. I remember as a child (many years ago!) seeing someone with a black diamond sown on his coat sleeve. I asked my mother why he had it. She said - because his mother has just died. That was the custom, but I still have no idea what the link might be between a bereavement and a black diamond, unless it has come down from the ancient tradition in the UK when the great families of the nobility would display their family crest on a big diamond-shaped board, particularly at the time of a woman’s death.
But customs change, and that one has died out, or perhaps been continued in another form in the wearing of black armbands by footballers, for instance. But mourning customs in many countries may involve much wailing and visible distress, and the wearing of black (or in some countries wearing white). In many western countries today mourning is often done quietly, with as little fuss as possible, with the wearing of smart clothes - or even colourful clothes - out of respect for the person who has died.
Customs may change, but however it is expressed, the reality of grief is still something that everyone has to face at some time.
The Bible has many tales of tragedy and tears, because it’s a realistic book, and people then had to face grief, just like people today.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah (in chapter 53, verse 3), speaks of someone coming who would be, “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Christians have long associated those words with Jesus who came to bring joy, but who also faced the darkness of loss and knew the meaning of grief.
In the shortest verse of the whole Bible there is the striking phrase, “Jesus wept” (John ch 11, verse 35). We cannot know exactly what touched him so deeply.
- It may have been his own deep sadness at the loss of a good friend.
- It may have been his sharing in the grief of the sisters who had lost a dear brother.
- It might have been his sorrow at the gloom and anguish surrounding any death.
- It might have been an anticipation of his own coming tortured death.
- It might have been a sorrow for us that with our limited understanding and faith we see death as an end rather than a beginning, the end and annihilation of life rather than the doorway to new life.
Perhaps it was all of these things at the same time. At the very least it reminds us to share in the sorrows and suffering of others. In the words of St Paul in Romans 12:15, we should “weep with those who weep”, as well as “rejoicing with those who rejoice”.
However we do it, and in whatever customs our own society has, followers of Jesus are also ready to share in grief, shedding tears with those who mourn. But also, followers of Jesus find great comfort in the promise that one day God will wipe away all tears, because death will be no more (Revelation 21:4).