Psalm 126 - Like those who dream

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1) When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2)Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3) The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4) Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5) May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6) Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Psalm 126: (NRSV*)
21st Sunday of Pentecost, Year B
Sunday between October 23 and October 29 inclusive


When I was young, we had family friends with a player piano. When we visited, we would often pull out the old player rolls, thread them into the piano, start pedaling and sing along. Probably my favorite was an old American hymn whose refrain was drawn from this psalm.

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves...

(Lyrics 1874 by Knowles Shaw)

The song had almost nothing to do with the psalm, but the words and the music did express the joy of harvest, and of bringing in gifts to the Lord, or to the community storehouse, rejoicing at participation in a bigger enterprise than simply feeding yourself for the coming year.

I love that. But how much more is in the psalm… They have been low. Really low. And this is the occasion of rejoicing. Big rejoicing.

Their fortunes have been restored - or at least they see restoration on the horizon. It is as if the desert now has streams of water flowing through it, watering the land and bringing forth new life. They remember the days of weeping, when the ground was bare, that time when the seeds are sown on the ground, with no certainty of harvest. Now there is wild laughter, shouts of joy. While the psalm doesn't say it. I certainly see dancing. And beyond the joy, there is also the move to a "new normal," rejoicing at the ordinary act of coming home.

Note also the social dimension of this reversal of fortunes. When Zion is restored, the nations notice. The psalm doesn't mention it, but presumably these same nations disrespected Zion's God, and looked with scorn on the people of Zion when they were suffering.

It's not entirely clear how far the people have come back, or how much the restoration is hoped for and envisioned. The past tense "When we ere restored" of verse 1 is in counterpoint to the future tense "Restore us," "May those," and Shall come home" of the later verses.

The psalm gives a hint about the road to restoration. "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream." Like those who dream. There is a healing power in the dreaming. Losing the hope of healing, losing the hope of restoration, losing the hope of new life is its own kind of desert. The psalm claims that the restored people - the reality of restoration - is compared to those who dream. We all like to cash the check, to bring in the sheaves. God is about the realization of righteous dreams. But how can you realize a dream until you have it? Let us be "like those who dream."

Credits:
Wikipedia: Bringing in the Sheaves.
Uncredited photo, Harvest.
sOMEONE35, River in the Negev desert, Israel, 17 January 2009.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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