Psalm 126 is part of a collection of “Songs of Ascents”, probably used in post-Exilic times as songs of pilgrimage for the great annual festivals in Jerusalem. Such festivals were reminiscent of mission conferences, when the people of God remembered past mission experiences, faced the present challenges, and strategized for the future.
In a similar fashion, this psalm reflects this threefold experience – opportunity for return and restoration to the Promised Land (vs.1-3), disappointment in the struggle to restore and rebuild from the rubble (v.4), and reflecting on the realities of the mission task (vs.5-7).
Those who engage in Christian mission can learn much from the reflections of this psalm.
The unexpected edict of Cyrus allowing Jewish exiles to return to rebuild their beloved city, Jerusalem, (Ezra 1:1-4) opened a new opportunity. It felt like a dream come true and filled them with joy, even amazing people from foreign communities. Sometimes in the history of mission, circumstances have opened up new avenues for obedience to God’s call, new openings to serve, new technologies to explore or new needs
to meet. These should fill us with Holy Spirit energy and joyful enthusiasm.
The reality for the returned exiles facing ruins, evidence of dashed hopes, rubble and destruction, rapidly evaporated much of the joy and some of the determination that they held at the start. It wrung a cry to God from the exiles for God to restore their fortunes. They felt like the southern deserts and longed for the seasonal rains that would sprout life again in parched land. Mission today is often fraught with drudgery and disappointment. Sometimes the gains seem small compared to the need. Circumstances drive us to pray.
The final two verses remind us clearly of the reality of the task of mission in the farming cycle. Sowing time is time for sacrifice, patience and hopeful expectation. The seed of the Good News is precious, and sown at great personal cost, even tears. After the sowing, there is often the need for patience. Sometimes it is, as Jesus reminded his disciples, the shallow, rocky ground that brings quick response but not long-term fruitfulness. And there is hope. In the good soil, but in God’s timing, the Spirit of God is able to grow a fruitful harvest. That in its turn, will bring joyful reaping.
Where are you at in this task of Christ’s mission? Which part of this psalm most challenges you to continue with the call of God on your life?