it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them!”
Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
and we are overjoyed.
Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
carrying bales of grain! Psalm 126 (CEB)
Grace and peace to you from the Holy and Blessed Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
Have you ever been in a really hard place in your life that suddenly turned around? Where you were struggling and struggling and, then, all of a sudden the path was made clear for you? That’s how we find things in tonight’s psalm. It opens with a look back to a difficult time in Israel’s history. To a hard circumstance. A moment of remembering. Scholars believe this psalm was written after the Babylonian exile. After the northern kingdom had been exiled. After the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. After the southern kingdom - Judah - was taken into exile.
But, this psalm is not actually about the exile. Instead, its focus is on the surprising turnabout of Judah’s fate. Of a people in exile. Suddenly freed from exile by the Persians - by Cyrus the Great - and restored to their homeland. Psalm 126 is a pilgrimage song. It’s a psalm about the journey. A journey out of exile and disorientation. To a place of home and reorientation. This model of orientation - disorientation - reorientation is one created by Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann. It’s a model that fit Israel’s communal experience. It’s also a model that fits well for our lives. And for those times when things seeming to be humming along - a place of orientation. Then everything falls apart - that’s the disorientation. Then, just when we are at what feels like the very bottom, suddenly things turn around. They are restored. Not the same as what they were, but in a new way. In a reoriented way.
So, what’s our reaction, when everything turns around? When everything's made new again? When everything seems to work out? If we look at Scripture and, particularly, Psalm 126, we see a typical human response. “Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter; our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.” Think of Miriam at the edge of the Red Sea when Israel had been saved from the coming Egyptian army. Or of Mary at the birth of Jesus after finding out she was an unwed mother. Our human response is to laugh. To sing. To dance.
There is something about laughter and song and dance that shouts “life,” isn’t there. Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, Dancing in the Streets, documents the importance of engaging in what she calls “collective ecstasy.” She writes that we are “innately social beings, impelled almost instinctively to share our joy.” And Brene Brown, after analyzing her research on shame for a couple years, learned that “laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration or healing: We are not alone.”
What makes you laugh? Perhaps it’s hearing a funny joke. Or watching your children or grandchildren do silly things. It’s not a laughing at, but a laughing with. What Brown calls a “knowing laughter.” It’s the kind of laughter that connects us. That comes from the power of sharing our lies and our stories with others. What makes you laugh?
What makes you sing? When you hear a particular song on the radio, does it ever feel as though you’re right back to the first time you heard it? There are many songs on the soundtrack of my life. There is a whole playlist of Taylor Dane songs that, whenever I hear one of them, I’m immediately taken back to my early 30’s and a crazy, head-over-heels infatuation. What’s the soundtrack of your life?
And, then, there’s dance! Perhaps dancing is the hardest because there is no other form of self-expression that can make us feel more vulnerable. Dancing is about full-body vulnerability. Have you ever watched a toddler dance? Writer Mary Jo Putney writes that what we love in childhood stays in our hearts forever. If this is true, then, dance stays in our heart even when our head tells us we should worry about what other people think.
And, that’s really the problem, isn’t it? Full-throated laughter, singing at the top of our lungs, and dancing with complete abandon require absolute vulnerability. And a lack of concern for what anyone else thinks. As we mature and are socially conditioned, we limit this vulnerability. We learn that we are to be cool and “always in control.” We do this because we want to feel good enough. Because we feel as if we don’t measure up. That we aren’t good enough. We feel shame.
Yet, all we need do, like the psalmist, is look back. To look back at God’s response to our shame and our sin. How God, in Christ, has destroyed it. And how God, in Christ, has brought about resurrection. And continues to bring about resurrection. And new life. Constantly moving us from disorientation to reorientation. To a new place.
May God help us to let go of fear and judgment and the feeling that we are all alone. May God lead us to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection. May God transform us into wholehearted people. Into shalom people. That we might experience all the laughter, song, and dance that God desires for us. And for all people. Amen.
Preached April 10, 2019, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Midweek Lent Worship
Reading: Psalm 126