In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, there is a point in the order of service where the congregation kneels and confesses its sins. “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,” the congregation says. “We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”
It is a powerful moment—but it isn’t the end. While the congregation continues to kneel, the minister declares the words of absolution. He announces to the congregation that God pardons and absolves all those who truly repent. This isn’t everyone’s tradition; perhaps it should be. Those who mourn over sin need the comforting promise that those who confess are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus promises a blessing to those who mourn, because this kind mourning is spiritual. While someone’s death is the most obvious cause for mourning, it isn’t the only cause.
Failure to honestly deal with our own sin can make us ruthless when dealing with the sin of others. Jesus has more to say about this later in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:3–4, Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Either way, the solution is the same. In order to properly grieve over the sins of others, I need to grieve over my own sins first.
I just returned from a mission’s trip to South Africa. Every time I boarded the plane the same thing happened at the beginning of the flight. The flight attendants go through the “Litany of Flight.” You know what I mean—they give their speech about buckling your seatbelts, finding the exits, and using your seat cushion as a floatation device. As if I’m actually going to have the presence of mind to grab the cushion and use it as a life preserver as the plane is going down! At some point in the discourse they say something that has always impressed me for its wisdom and common sense: “If the cabin loses air pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the compartment over your head. If someone seated next to you is having trouble putting on their oxygen mask, put yours on first, and then help your neighbor.”
When you think about it, that really makes sense. Jesus uses the same reasoning here. You can’t help someone else deal with their sin until you face your own first. So what’s the remedy? Holy mourning. Does Jesus mean that we should make a public display of our sin? Should we come to the front of the church and weep at the altar? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s sincere. Weeping can be good, but it is not a guarantee of repentance.
Speaking of this beatitude, Puritan preacher Thomas Watson said, “It is not so much the weeping eye God respects, as the broken heart.” The broken heart is the problem that keeps us from embracing this idea of mourning. Who wants a broken heart? Have you ever broken your arm? Your foot? Your nose? When has a broken anything ever felt good?
Jesus makes a promise to those who mourn over their sin: “Blessed are those who mourn,” he says, “for they will be comforted.” They will be consoled. How does God grant this blessing of consolation? One way he does this is through his Word. First John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”