There is a question I cannot get out of my mind. I have been thinking…
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
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.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
I’m standing outside the church. It’s Sunday morning. Early. Kinda cold. My hands are in my pockets, shoulders tight, feet moving. I should have brought a jacket. Our congregation is beginning to arrive for church, and I like to be outside whenever I can to greet them. The first dozen or so I’ve seen many times during the pandemic, so they know the routine and head on in.
And then I see them. Two men, a father and son, whom I haven’t seen since March. For health reasons they were unable to return. But now, with a vaccine, they could. If you know me at all, you know I’m not one for sentimentality. But I kid you not, seeing them brought a warmth, an energy, a joy I had not felt in a long time. I ran up to them too fast. They were alarmed. But when we recognized each other, we beamed. I didn’t know it, but it was like a part of me, a part of my family, had returned, and I felt closer to “whole” again. I know. It’s melodramatic. But it’s true.
It felt like Psalm 126, a psalm of “ascent” used by faithful pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem to worship. The whole point of the psalm is to remember. You can see it in the first line: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…” The poet is looking back on something God did. Remember when God did that? How that felt?
That little private moment in the parking lot, I felt like I wasn’t just remembering what God had done. I was experiencing it. I felt like someone in a dream. It was surreal, like God was putting His Temple, His people, back together, one brick at a time, after a long exile in Babylon. During this long pandemic, it felt like a miracle.
The Lord has done great things for us…
I say all this to remind myself, and maybe you, that God is working. He is restoring our fortunes; He is re-building Christ Community. Even if you are not able to return on Sundays yet (which I completely understand), my hope is that you can still experience the church family coming together as I have.These small miracles can happen at the park, in the driveway, and over the phone.
Those who sow in tears…
I say all this to remind myself, and maybe you, that God never wastes a tear. God makes many promises about our suffering in the Scriptures. But this one, in Psalm 126, is the one I forget the most. God is with us in suffering, God protects us in suffering, of course. But He never wastes our suffering either. In fact, if I’m reading this right, there’s something in particular about our tears that soak the soil for the joy God brings next, more potently than we can imagine. This has always been true of God’s economy, and it still is.
We have sown many tears this year. Tears of fear, grief, loss, loneliness, and anxiety. Personally, I feel like I have done more funerals this year than I ever have as a pastor. Every one of them hurt, and COVID made each one of them worse. They caused tears. God has planted every one. He has planted yours, too.
I honestly don’t know what God is going to do next, what this harvest will bring, other than this: it will be joy. Because with God, joy is always the last chapter. Keep sowing, dear church. And I can’t wait to see you again.