I love Psalm 126. I love the dream-like quality of not believing good news, of not realizing that the good news that others are amazed at applies to us. Today when reading the lectionary, I got stuck on the repetition on the last two verses:
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
I'm assuming that "those who go out weeping" are the Jerusalem exiles, and they "come home with shouts of joy" when Babylon is defeated by Persian and Cyrus proclaims that they can return to Jerusalem. The weird part of this metaphor to me is where the harvest is taking place. That they go out weeping does not seem strange at all. That they bear seed for sowing seems a little strange. What do defeated people carry with them? I want the answer to be "hope," but I also don't want to trivialize their despair. That they come home with shouts of joy seems normal, but that they are carrying sheaves already harvested implies that their crops grew and were harvested over there, in exile, where I expect despair.
The theologian in me wants it to be that the thing they carry, along with their grief and despair and tears and weeping, is God's covenant, God's promise to be with them, to be their God. Their harvest might be Cyrus' proclamation, but I prefer to think of it as the joy that comes with God's presence. Going over there to exile with no hope and finding God with them there is a joyous surprise, and hard to believe. In an age when empires are equated with a nation's pantheon, it would have looked like out God was defeated or non-existent. I would imagine the people would expect despair as well. To find God not only present, but in control and wielding empires like a weapon against each other is an unexpected harvest.
This seems to me to be a problem, but it is not a problem with a logical answer--more like the kind of problem a dream presents. There's a pattern here, but that pattern could be interpreted many ways. When I wake up from dreaming, I don't always make sense of my dreams, and I don't think they always have to make sense. It's the weird dreamlike quality that makes this Psalm from today's lectionary interesting.