When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion
then we were like unto them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter
and our tongue with joy.
Then said they among the heathen:
The Lord has done great things for them.
Yea, the Lord has done great things for us already,
whereof we are glad.
Turn our captivity, O Lord,
as rivers in the south.
They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.
He that goeth on his way weeping,
and beareth forth good seed
shall doubtless come again with joy,
and bring his sheaves with him.
That this psalm should “happen” to fall on Good Friday in the little reading schedule I created a few months back strikes me as divine coincidence. What better Psalm of Ascent could there be for this day?
In this psalm we have the seed sown in sorrow and its harvest reaped with joy. One of Jesus’ favorite images was that of the seed: the mustard seed, the seed of the Word, the wheat seed, the weed seed, and of course, “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die…”
This is the day the seed is sown in sorrow. This is the day that reverberates down through history and reaches back into time past and proclaims the truth of this psalm. Because of Christ’s faithfulness and love, all sorrow is transformed into joy, all tears are turned to laughter.
But we want to skip the sorrow part, don’t we? We want to get straight to the joy and the laughter. We want resurrection, and we want it yesterday. Only it doesn’t work that way, does it? We wish it did. We spend a lot of time weeping and gnashing our teeth because it doesn’t (or maybe that’s just me). But the only way out is through. The only way to reap a harvest of joy is to sow the seed in tears. This takes an incredible amount of faith.
As I reflected on this, it became all the more stunning to me what Jesus did on that cross. We know the end of that story. We know what happened three days later. We know death was not the end for Him. But I wonder how much He knew? The Gospels tell us he knew that He would rise again in three days, but did He know exactly what that meant? Any more than we know what it means that we will live forever in Heaven? We have some ideas, but we don’t know. Maybe it was the same for Jesus. He had this promise from His Father, and He trusted God, but maybe He didn’t know all the details of how God was going to raise him. It was certainly something new in the world, this whole resurrection thing.
He was trusting God with a lot. With Himself, with His pain and His fear and His hope. That took faith, more faith than I think we realize. We think of Jesus as being God, and He was. But Jesus was also human, with all the emotions and reactions that go along with that.
He knew this psalm, and perhaps He was praying it through clenched teeth as He walked the heavy road to Golgotha. “The Lord has done great things for us already…”
Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Remember how near He has always been. Remember the great things He has done in You and through You. Remember, and believe.
Perhaps He was clinging to it like a lifeline as He hung on the cross. “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
Trust the promise that after this agony will come life and joy. Life and joy. Keep Your eyes on the life and joy. Each moment of sorrow, of pain, of anguish brings You closer to the life and the joy.
Meditating on this psalm on Good Friday has helped me glimpse the tremendousness of Jesus’ faith in His Father, and it has helped me glimpse a way beyond the smallness of my own faith, beyond my habit of fear. That glimpse looks like Jesus, keeping His eyes on the joy set before Him, trusting the promise that God will do what He said He will do, and taking one step after another, one breath after another, until it was accomplished.
Julien Dupre, “The Gleaners,” 1880.