Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted – a sermon on Matthew 5:4 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.

Over the past week or two we’ve probably all been shocked by the disturbing images which have been beamed into our houses of mass graves uncovered at Izium in Ukraine. These graves are said to be of civilians killed by Russian occupying troops. Exactly 81 years ago this week, close to the Ukrainian capital, more than 33,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazi occupiers.  And shocking as these events may be, they are just small pictures of man’s inhumanity to man. It’s now 77 years since the survivors of the Nazi death-camp Auschwitz were liberated. But even today the name of this death camp vividly calls to mind the depths of depravity to which mankind can sink.

Adolf Eichmann was one of those responsible for organising the deportation and killing of Jews. After the war he was captured and brought to trial in Israel. At that trial Yehiel Dinur, a survivor of Auschwitz, came face-to-face with Eichmann for the first time since he was sent to Auschwitz almost 20 years previously. Dinur broke down, sobbing uncontrollably before collapsing. Now we might think that that happened because he was filled with rage or hatred against Eichmann or perhaps because of the horrendous memories of that camp. But this wasn’t the case. Dinur later said that at that very moment he realised that Eichmann wasn’t the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their death, but just an ordinary man. “I was afraid about myself,” said Dinur. “… I saw that I am capable to do this. I am … exactly like he.”

It’s no wonder that he collapsed, sobbing! He came to that horrifying recognition that “Eichmann is in all of us”, as the host of the program 60 Minutes would later summarise it. From a biblical perspective, he realised his own sinful nature. He saw that he was capable of the same things, and he collapsed with tears of grief, grieving about his own sinful nature.

Blessed are those who mourn, says Jesus, for they shall be comforted.

 Friends, it is this type of grieving that Jesus is talking about. Yes, there is also comfort for those who grieve personal loss, and we will look at that briefly today as well, but the main thrust of Jesus’ message has to do with grieving as a result of the recognition of sin. It has to do with contrition, it is about having the right attitude towards sin. Truly confronting our sin has to lead us to grief. It has to lead us to mourning over that sin. And this second beatitude shows us both the need for mourning and also the comfort that those who mourn will be given.