Pentecost 22 B: Daily Resurrection and the Plague

The readings for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost are

Old Testament      Jeremiah 31:7–9

Psalm                    Psalm 126

New Testament     Hebrews 7:23–28

Gospel                   Mark 10:46–52

I resolve to recite to myself the last three verses of Psalm 126 every time I recover from watching PBS Newshour and the heartache going in the world:

      Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5     May those who sow in tears

reap with shouts of joy.

6     Those who go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.

The Covid plague; the hypocrisy of government actions on climate change, one party’s synchronized sabotage of voting rights, the way despots use sickness and starvation as weapons, etc., etc. All of it buries me in grief.

The first four verses of Psalm 126 address the BIG PICTURE of Zion and the nations.  It is not easy to translate some of the verbs in the Psalm; so it is not possible to be certain of the historical perspective. Is this joy over the Lord’s restoration in the past, or hopeful anticipation of future salvation? But Psalms are like that—purposely vague so that anyone at any time can pray them.

Then, the last few verses turn to the quotidian. That’s a fancy word from the Latin. In the Lord’s Prayer in that language there is the petition, “Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, which means, “Give us this day our daily, or quotidian, or daily bread.”

If we feel buried in grief over what is happening in our world and to our loved ones, then we are human. It is proof we are alive. But, then we have the potential of the new growth that is a daily dose of resurrection.

Luther had the insight that this is the way baptism keeps working in our lives. In our daily repentance we die to our old selves and rise again to our new.

But the emphasis in this psalm is not on our repentance but God’s. The most common word for the act of repentance in the Hebrew Bible is shoove which has the basic meaning of “turn.” In the first verse of this psalm it is the Lord who turns around the fortunes of Zion, or Jerusalem, so dramatically that people can’t keep from laughing and screaming out loud.

But it is everyday turning that God does that makes it possible for our tears to turn to joy. One image of this regular restoration is the “watercourses of the Negeb.” It’s an arid landscape, but when the rain comes the desert blooms! And it is predictable. The dead land becomes fruitful.

But the image that makes this come alive for us who aren’t desert dwellers, is the one that goes on all the time here on the farm. It is going on right now with our winter wheat that looks so gorgeous at twilight—golden hues cast on the brilliant green. The seeds were buried, they burst forth, they will sleep through the winter, and then bless us with a crop to feed countless people. We can count on it.

“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”

The Russian author, Fyodor Michailovitch Dostoyevsky was marched out in a freezing Siberian winter’s day and lined up with others to be shot. It turned out to be a cruel lesson from the Tsar; so a messenger stopped the mass execution and told the prisoners to be grateful to their master who was now giving them the “reprieve” of four years hard labor followed by four years of service in the army.

Dostoyevsky survived the eight years of misery, but a friend died along the way. So Dostoyevsky wrote a letter to the widow of that friend. In it he said that life entails living grief over and again in memory. In the process “one can test the true gravity of what one has endured, gone through, and lost…[And] in such moments, one does, “like dry grass,” thirst after faith, and that one finds it in the end, solely and simply because one sees the truth more clearly when one is unhappy.”

In his final great novels, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky works through what death and resurrection mean in daily human life. Hopefully few of us will ever have trauma like a death squad in Siberia to deal with. But we all have the unhappiness that illuminates truth. And today we have it in great heaps because of the viral plague and the plague of irrational political divisions that are running rampant. The Devil is on the prowl!

Let us all, with the Psalmist, open our eyes to the ways of winter wheat–to the ways the Lord turns things upside down and inside out–to the ways darkness has us searching for the light, to the ways we experience both quotidian death and quotidian resurrection.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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