The heartbeat of the first beatitude moves naturally into the second, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).
The poor in spirit are indeed those who mourn. They grieve over lost years, even decades of ignoring God’s righteousness, seeking to establish their own, and not submitting to the gift of God’s righteousness, which is of faith alone.
Yes, it is grief. Pure grief. How could I have ignored and refused the gift for so long? How could I have believed such a lie? How could I have believed the false prophets of the law that stroked my ego into thinking that my works were equal to the righteousness of God? The tears and lament are powerful and strong. For many of us, they have been marked by sobbing, remorse, and guilt over how we mocked those who hung onto grace alone through Christ alone. We thought them misguided fools. In fact, we accused them of being evil for distorting what we thought was “the truth” of the righteousness of the law.
But the tears of those who mourn are not just tears of lament. They are those tears when grief turns into deep joy, and we cry out in both grief and joy at the same time. And yet, in the middle of that despair, we are shocked by the great news of an unbelievable event that turns our lament into dancing. The torrents of tears of trouble turn into torrents of tears of unutterable joy, a thrill that can only be expressed through tears. David experienced these powerful emotions of tears and joy all welled up together in powerful bursts of song. “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Ps 30:11-12).
This sudden emotional cry from grief and loss into joy and praise arises when we hear the word of the gospel. And with hearing comes the word of faith. For the first time we believe that the gift of Christ’s righteousness is sufficient for us. We mourn for the years of unbelief while we rejoice in the newness of trust in God’s sovereign grace which has suddenly overtaken us. The burdens of years are lifted and we actually feel like we are walking, dancing, and rejoicing in heavenly places where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. And we are right there with him through the abundance of his grace.
The giver of life, the source of joy, stands weeping together with the human family as they grieve under the curse of sin.
Through faith, I understand that the man hanging from the cross is there in my place. In a very personal way, he loves me, and is dying there, breathing his last as the life-giving spirit into my soul. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That love is poured out personally to each sinner and communally to the church. Only love can produce that sudden shift from lament into gladness. But only the love of Christ on the cross can intersect the tears of frustration at seeking our own righteousness and bring us into the joy of our Father’s grace.
This sudden shift from grief into joy is the comfort that comes with the blessing of makarios.
Nowhere is that turn from profound grief into joyful praise described more vividly than in the tears of Mary, Martha, and even Jesus himself. As with most deaths, the scene in the inner circle of the family has turned into chaos. The person most important to the family was not there to provide guidance and strength in the final hours before Lazarus’ death. That in itself was an additional source of grief. When Jesus finally arrived, they didn’t hesitate to let him know, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:22). But he had not been there, and the sisters had to hold their brother’s hands as he took his last breath. Their grief had been so great that Scripture twice records that “many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother” (John 11:10, 31). When Jesus eventually came, Mary went out to meet him and those in the house followed her. ” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). The indication is that these were no actors paid to provide appropriate wailing, according to the custom. The emotional chaos brought on by uncontrollable wailing, deep heartfelt sobbing, in a cycle that feeds upon itself, was all real. The faces were marked by the wrinkled twisted skin of grief, the almost shut red eyes, and the trails of tears traced upon the cheeks. Even as Jesus walked with the crowd toward the tomb, Scripture simply records, “and Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The giver of life, the source of joy, stands weeping together with the human family as they grieve under the curse of sin.
But he is God’s makarios in the flesh. The blessing he is in himself for humanity will not tolerate such pain and grief. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). With one great cry drowning all others, he commands, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11: 43). As Lazarus emerges with hesitant steps, still bound in burial garments, no one moves, all are paralyzed with shock. Things have changed in an instant. Jesus has to command, “unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44). The gospel writer leaves the rest to our imagination. The cries of weeping turn into shouts of joy. The sisters embrace their brother, unwrapping the funeral shrouds. One of the sisters runs to get his clothes. She brings his finest tunic; he is dressed in the clothes of the living. They pour perfume on him. The sounds of grief have vanished. Now, there are only acclamations of uncontrolled joy and praise. Lament has turned into dancing.
“Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted”!