Tears of Mourning and the Wine of Blessedness
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Matthew 5:4
“Blessed are those who mourn,”…. there is so much bound up in that single word, “mourn.” The loss of hopes, the slow disintegration of dreams, mothers taken, fathers struck with sickness, husbands and wives cut off from each other in this life, orphans, refugees, wars, divorces, cancer…..all these and countless more, Jesus implies with the word “mourn.” And by implying them all, He leaves none out. He doesn’t say, “those who are sick,” or “those who have lost loved ones,” or “those who suffer from mental illness,” He simply says, “those who mourn.” With elegant simplicity, God Incarnate looks into the eyes of every mourner who has ever lived – that is every one of us – and invites them into this word of blessing.
And don’t miss the dissonance here; though these words are directed to “those who mourn,” Jesus is, in fact, speaking a blessing. How is that possible? How can Jesus say to the mourners who trust in Him, “you are blessed….” I want to take this blog post to consider that with you.
Pastor Tim Keller once summarized the biblical word “blessed” as, “Oh, how deeply happy.” It is a word that carries the sense of things in their right order as God designed….things at peace with each other…the world and all things in it as they ought to be. “Blessedness” is not just a generic “good” or “bounty,” rather it is a deep-hearted gladness from and in God that bubbles up like a subterranean spring in our lives…..it is the breath of fresh air after a long stay in a dungeon, it is the first light of dawn after a fevered night, it is the birds singing for the first time after a bitter winter, it is the experience of our soul “stepping back,” surveying the situation and exclaiming, “Oh, how deeply happy I am…” Such deep happiness is what the Bible means by “blessedness,” and here Jesus proclaims it over those who mourn. “Oh, how deeply happy are those who mourn….” How can it be? Let’s look next at His logic.
“…for they shall be comforted.”
Jesus gives this blessing in the form of a logical argument, so if we are going to understand the sort of deep-hearted gladness that He promises to His mourning disciples, we need to track His thought process. Notice that the entire blessing hinges on the word, “for.”
“Blessed are those who mourn…” Why? How can He say that? Here is the answer: “FOR they shall be comforted.”
The ground for the present blessedness of the mourners is the assurance of coming comfort. Blessed are mourners now because they shall soon be comforted. But if a person is “blessed” it implies that something positive has been given….and that doesn’t at first seem to be the case here. If all a mourner receives is comfort for their suffering (for instance, a mourning son receives his mother back in the resurrection), then they haven’t really been given a positive blessing, they’ve simply been returned to the place they were before the suffering….they’ve returned to “neutral.”….if all Jesus had in mind with this blessing was that His mourning disciples would one day “get back” the things that were now causing them to mourn, then He shouldn’t have said, “Blessed are those who mourn…” but rather, “It will be ok for those who mourn…” But this isn’t what He says. He says, blessed…..those who mourn are blessed. The implication is that the mourning has achieved something, that the mourner will receive something because of their mourning that they would not have received otherwise, something that will make them more deeply happy than they would/could have been before the sorrow.
What Jesus Means by “Comfort”
Because of this, I am arguing that Jesus’ use of the word “comfort” here means far more than simply getting back what was lost. Rather, I think it implies an experience of kindness from the Lord so great, so personal, so tailor-made for our heart’s particular pains, and so surpassing every hope or imagination that we will count our seasons of mourning to have been a blessing since they enabled us to experience this comfort (and this Comforter).
Consider, what is supreme blessedness? Supreme joy? It must be God Himself….therefore anything that draws us more deeply into Him, that enlarges our capacities to know and love Him, that communicates Him more truly to our souls, must be a blessing. This, I believe, is what Jesus tells us our present mourning is accomplishing – not just a comfort that takes us back to where we were before the sorrow – but a comfort that, because of the sorrow, launches us further up and further in to the heart and mind of our great God of Comfort. Christian mourning secures for the mourner an experience of intimacy with and mercy from the Lord that is uniquely designed for their individual suffering and that they could not have known apart from it. So, in this way, every suffering that the we face as a Christian is an assurance of unique communion with the Lord, a unique communication of Himself to us…both now in the midst of the pain, and in eternity as He comforts our hearts with a grace-given, mourning-secured joy that surpassing all present anticipations.
For the Christian, mourning is the seed of gladness, and when we taste the sweet fruit of God’s comforting grace that will grow directly from the bitter root of our mourning, we will say – “I was blessed to have mourned as I did, because of the experience of God that it has purchased for me.”
…….Perhaps as you read those words you can’t imagine them to be true…..you can’t imagine a communion with the Lord so sweet so as to make this present mourning blessed. First off, let me say that Jesus’ intention here is not to belittle our current mourning, but to magnify the coming comfort. He is not telling us to “suck it up and be happy,” far from it…He is encouraging us to know sorrow to its depths, to mourn deeply and truly……and yet – in the mourning – to know beyond doubt that comfort is coming from the heart of God that will swallow this pain up into grace-secured delight. Friend, if you cannot imagine a comfort sweet enough to do this, be encouraged and trust the God for whom nothing is too wonderful.
Mourning is Blessing Only Through the Cross.
Lastly, let me say that this blessedness is only for the Christian. Only the one who knows and loves God in Christ is blessed in their mourning, and sorrow is joy’s seed only for the one who has trusted Christ as Lord. Why? Because every one of us deserves, not comfort, but the supreme “mourning” of hell….and yet, in LOVE, God the Son has swallowed that mourning in the place of all who will trust in Him. We can be sure that the valley of our mourning will open onto fields of gladness only when we are carried by the One who walked through death and into life in our place. ONLY through Jesus Christ – the one who died and is now alive forevermore – does God ensure that joy is the end of every song……and just as Jesus turned water to wine at the wedding in Cana, so too at His own marriage feast, the slain and risen Lamb of God will turn the tears of His once-mourning bride into the wine of her eternal blessedness.
 George MacDonald, The Miracles of Our Lord
 JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King