Have you ever awoken from a nightmare, relieved to know it had only been a dream? You may be disoriented for a while as you adjust to reality. Imagine Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, how confused she must have been when she first saw Jesus. Was this a dream? Or was this reality and the experience of the previous days a nightmare from which she had awoken?
In Psalm 126, the people are described as being like those who dreamed. They are returning from the Babylonian exile, looking around in wonder and laughing at their good fortune. “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.” (1-2a) Other nations looked on and said, “The lord has done great things for them.” (2b)
Imagine their wonder at finally being allowed to return to their home. Many had died in exile, others had been born in exile and never been to Jerusalem before. On the way home they must have smiled and laughed at their good fortune, only to be saddened by the destruction that awaited them. The work of rebuilding began.
They ask God to restore them. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the water-courses in the Negeb.” (4) May they be like the land of the Negeb that was barren and dry during the summer, but renewed by autumn rains. The psalm ends with the prayer, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of Joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (5-6)
In each person’s life, there are valleys and hills, sad times and joyous occasions. When in the valley, it can seem like the nightmare will never end. Psalm 126 reminds us that all this will pass. That the good times will return. The history of the Israelite people has been one of hard times as well as good times. Perhaps the hardest was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. But even this time passed. God lead them out of exile, just as God freed them from slavery in Egypt.
The Israelites are again in a difficult situation. In their suffering, they remember how God brought them back out of exile: Words of hope for each of us when we are in those valley experiences.
While in this life, there will be sad times. All of us have our share of hardships to endure. But there have also been good times, sometimes better than we ever imagined. We go through the cross to the resurrection. Perhaps the best times are yet to come, when God will wipe away all of our tears.