Psalm 126

Time & Transformation

Psa. 126:0   A Song of Ascents.

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.

Psa. 126:4    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.

In recent years I have been wondering about the theology of time. Time figures importantly in theology and in the biblical witness too. A brief example to illustrate — isn’t it interesting the God takes time to create? It takes time for God’s creative process to unfold and that suggests that all of creation becomes what it is supposed to be through time. One doesn’t have to be particularly clever to then wonder, “If all of creation takes time to become what God desires it to be — perhaps I too am becoming all that God created me to be in time.”

Many of us know the wonderful quote:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stage. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time – that is to say, grace – and circumstances acting on your own good will, will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our Loving vinedresser. Amen.”

— Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Psalm 126 also seems to be sensitive to the question of time. First of all, (though I do not want to get into it here) the tense of verbs in Hebrew poetry is notoriously slippery and there is a robust discussion about verses 1-3 of Psalm 126 with the traditional translations wanting to render the verb tense as a past-perfect and newer scholarship arguing for a verb tense which is future imperfect (i.e. “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion, we should be like dreamers . . .” trans. Robert Altar). What does intrigue me, however, is the tacit acknowledgement in the poetic constructions of the Psalm that we move through time from one state to another — and that it is in time that we come to new places of joy and prosperity.

Take for example verses five and six. I will alter slightly the NRSV translation to make the poetic constructions of the Hebrew obvious — something the NRSV sometimes obscures in its word-ordering.

5 May those who sow in tears

with shouts of joy, reap.

You see the chiastic construction:

sow – tears
Shouts of joy – reap

AND

6 Those who go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.

You see the poetic parallelism:

go out – weeping – bearing seed
come home – singing/shouting joyfully – carrying sheaves.

There is a natural sequence, a tidal dance, a waxing and waning of life which shows up in these poetic lines. Life consists of labor (sowing, going out to work, bearing, carrying) and recreation (singing, shouting). We know both sorrow and joy, weeping and singing glad songs. Though I would not want to take these sequences too tightly, as if the processes were fixed, I do know in my bones the truth that it is far more fun to reap my garden’s harvest than it was to plow the soil, plant the seeds, and weed the garden all Summer.

So how does this connect to our journey through Lent? These months spent in anticipation of the joys of Easter include a lot of seed-planting, weeding, and tilling of the soil of my soul. I’m not too proud to admit that a tear or two has already been shed over my rediscovery of my hard-heartedness or other unloveliness within me. But I (we) go out with our bags full of seeds and a desire to keep a Holy Lent, and we do the hard work of planting, sowing, and weeding now —  trusting that in time God will be merciful to deliver a fruitful harvest about which we can joyful shout.

Daily Collect: God who scatters the seeds for sowing liberally — You cast the seeds of your mercy on hard ground, ground thick with weeds, and ground ready to receive the seeds of your love.  As we make our way through Lent and approach Holy Week, we pray that our disciplines might cooperate with your grace so that we  begin to see new fruitfulness in our lives.  Help us to be patient with the slow growth, knowing that we cannot rush some things.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.