Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted
Psalm 55; Matthew 5:4
What could be more nonsensical than this? Or insensitive? “Blessed are they that mourn”?
In my Greek lexicons the word that invariably appears next to “Blessed” is “Happy”. It’s a word denoting a prosperous and favourable condition. Some dictionaries list “blissful” as a synonym! So how on earth can Jesus call mourners “blessed”?
Well it’s all a part of “the beatitudes” (taken from the Latin word for blessed: “beatus”). These are the 8 or 9 opening sentences of the sermon on the mount, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In each of them, Jesus pronounces a people “blessed” in the present because of a future state of affairs which is promised. So in this beatitude present mourners are blessed because there is a comfort coming.
Now we can understand mourning on two levels. Firstly our present age, under the dominion of sin, is death-bound. All that we do is in the shadow of death. But secondly, if we are “poor in spirit” then we will mourn not only our mortality but our sin. Kingdom people are very aware of the presence of death “out there” as well as death at work “in here” too! Yet, nonetheless Jesus says “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) There is an answer to death coming – an answer for death out there as well as death in here.
In a single sentence Jesus manages to condense three distinct forces in the Christian life and to show their inter-relationships. A member of Christ’s kingdom is someone who simultaneously mourns and is blessed. It’s not that they forget about mourning because suddenly they are blessed. Their blessedness occurs precisely in their mourning. And this is because Christ’s promised future is making its presence felt in the here and now. Tomorrow breaks into today, not to exempt me from the reality of today, but to transform my experience of it.
In this way Jesus teaches the in-breaking nature of the kingdom of heaven. Christ brings a kingdom that will right every wrong. But even in advance of this dramatic over-turning, the prospect of it transforms the present. Mourning is still mourning, but it’s blessed mourning.
This is the way that Christ enters the world. He does not sweep aside the present order, shot through with death and grief. He enters into it, transforming it from the inside, establishing His new life in its midst. Members of His kingdom cannot expect to be beamed up from our afflictions. Instead we enter into His death and resurrection – participating in His suffering and glory through His risen presence with us.
Paul speaks poetically of this interplay of death and hope in 2 Corinthians chapter 4:
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)