In ancient times, people had different ideas about what to do when mourning. Bible folk used to wear uncomfortable coarse goatskins to physically augment their set period of grief. The skins were normally used for making sacks and must have been very itchy to wear. Usually, they were worn for at least seven days; at the end of that time, the mourners went back to wearing their own clothes. Sometimes people wore their sackcloth for longer periods, depending on how severe their grief actually was.
The wearing of sackcloth was also practiced by those who felt the need to repent of past mistakes. It was a public display of their remorse and must have been a very humbling experience. In medieval times, monks and priests still practiced the wearing of hair shirts beneath their tunics or robes. Their discomfort was meant to be a constant reminder of their own unworthiness and unholiness before God.
These days, we tend not to go to these extremes when experiencing grief or expressing our regrets. We can cry out directly to God without adding any ritual in between. We can pray to Him privately about our grief and pain, or express to Him our remorse and shame. We can voice our feelings or vent our spleen; we can think about our regrets and inwardly confess our faults. No matter how we do this, God hears and knows what’s in our hearts and on our minds, even before we give voice to our grief, our repentance, or our complaints.
In the end, we rest in God’s arms and sob in His presence. Then a miracle occurs – the one described by the Psalmist – He turns our wailing into dancing, removing our sackcloth, and clothes us with His joy. It may take a while and cost us many tears, but of this we can be assured: God’s love can heal our wounds, forgive our sins, and restore our lives.
Questions for personal reflection
Am I presently experiencing a hard time in my life? How am I expressing my feelings to God? What do I hope to receive from Him?
Prayer: Lord God, we are human and frail, shaped by our experiences and affected by our feelings. You know what we are presently enduring; You understand completely all that we are currently undergoing. Be near to us and embrace us. Hold on to us and guide us. Grant us faith, hope, and love for the days and times ahead. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to ask questions or make comments about today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.