It is so paradoxical. Happy are those who mourn. It does not seem possible that happiness and mourning could ever coexist. Yet, Jesus says right there in the red letters, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). Lest you think that there may be some kind of original language loophole, this word “mourn” was most often used in the context of the loss of a loved one. It is a mourning that cannot be contained in the realm of feeling, but is expressed in tears and wailing. Somehow, Jesus says there is happiness in this state.
This concept did not originate in the New Testament. In Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, the Preacher says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
How in the world is the heart made glad by sadness? I think it has something to do with facing up to reality. Amusement is an escape from reality. Reality is full of awful things such as injustice, abuse, sickness, and death. These things are too heavy. We want a lightness of being, so we flee to vehicles that will carry us away from such things into worlds that help us forget that suffering is real. We want laughter to drown out the sounds of the harsh realities around us.
This kind of denial only works until the suffering is too close to ignore. When this happens, the mind cannot be distracted by levity. We have to deal with the real world.
So, what is the reality we must face? Romans 8: 20 says that all of creation “was subjected to futility.” Nothing is as it should be. Tsunamis, tornados, and hurricanes ravage cities. Political corruption is rampant. Crime is universal. Even the joy we experience in this life comes through pain. The joy of childbirth comes only through the pain of labor. The joy of feasting comes through burdensome effort. The joy of deep relationships can only be known through heartbreaking trials. Watch the news. Read the headlines. Let yourself feel the weight of creation’s futility. This is reality.
So, where does the happiness enter in? Jesus finishes the paradox with the phrase, “…for they shall be comforted.” Jesus surely had Isaiah 61 in mind when he uttered this phrase. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.” Jesus has brought and is bringing a kingdom in which the weight of our present reality will be crushed beneath the greater weight of God’s glory. All injustices will be made right. All infirmities will be healed. All reasons for mourning will be reconciled.
Those who are willing to face the harsh reality of sin’s consequences, to feel the anguish of a world gone wrong, these are given the sure hope of a kingdom that far outweighs it all. This is the happiness of the mourners. The mourning is temporary. Joy shall spring eternal. Those who medicate reality with amusement will not do so forever. They will face sin’s consequences. Mourn now and know joy forever, or laugh now and forfeit eternal joy.
Church is serious business. Joy is serious business. Much more so than we have made them.