My daily work is as a chaplain for a hospice program. That means I work with people who are dying, their families, and in our bereavement program with those who have lost loved ones in the past year. Psalm 126 is a song that speaks volumes to these precious folks. It speaks to me too, for we all live in the now, which is between the past and the future. We live between our memories and our hopes. And how shall we then live?
The first three verses of Psalm 126 look in the rear-view mirror at what has gone before:
When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
We are glad.
These words were sung by those who had returned from Babylon. The Lord had done great things for them, and now they were home. It was a dream come true, a cause for celebration, and a witness to all nations of God's sovereign grace and power. This memory made them glad.
However, the next three verses look to their future:
Restore our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
When the exiles returned, they came home to chaos. A huge rebuilding project awaited them. Think people returning to New Orleans after Katrina, or to Galveston after hurricane Ike. Nor was the devastation only in their environment. A small, weak group without the infrastructure of the kingdom as they had known it, they were still beset by their enemies round about and prone more than ever to spiritual discouragement. In one sense they were back, however, in reality they still faced a long hard road to get all the way back.
And so they cry out to God for a full return, that he will fill them like rains that transform the desert. They cling to the promise that their present tears are like seeds sown in fertile soil. One day they will yield a harvest of never-ending gladness and fruitfulness.
Now may be the time of tears and toilsome labor. Do not despair. Faithfully plant your seeds in the fertile field between memory and hope and look to the Lord of harvest.