A Song of Tears, Laughter and Hope

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

Prayer of the Day: Eternal light, shine in our hearts. Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance. Eternal compassion, have mercy on us. Turn us to seek your face, and enable us to reflect your goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

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. Psalm 126:5-6.

The old hymn, “Bringing in the Sheaves” was written by American author, evangelist and composer of gospel hymns Knowles Shaw. It was inspired by the words of this Sunday’s psalm. (For a fuller analysis of the psalm itself, see my Post for Sunday, March 13, 2016) It is also probably the first piece of sacred music I ever heard. The hymn was a favorite of my mother. She used to sing it frequently when going about her work around the house. That is, in fact, one of my earliest memories of her. I recall trying to sing along, thinking all the time that the refrain “bringing in the sheaves” was actually “bringing in the sheets.” It made sense to me because that was a good part of what Mom did on any given day. Although we had a decrepit washing machine in our basement, we did not own a dryer and could not afford one. So, in order to minimize trips to the laundromat, Mom would make liberal use of our cloths line where she hung our freshly washed laundry out to dry. Quite naturally, I assumed that Mom was singing about the work she was actually doing.

Maybe I was not so far off the mark. Of course, I learned at some point (I can’t recall just when) that the hymn was not about laundry, but the work of planting, irrigating and harvesting-work that is hard, sometimes unrewarding and, once completed, needs to be done all over again the following year. This is the song of exiles returning to a ruined land with a dream of its restoration planted in their hearts by a prophet. It is the hymn of a people beginning to come to grips with the gaping lacuna between its hope for a brighter future and the present dark realities of having to rebuild its culture and civilization nearly from scratch. Thiers was work that could easily be undone by bad weather, pests or the violence of invading armies. It was work that could bring one to tears of sorrow and anxiety at the onset but promised tears of joy in the end. Like growing crops, doing the wash is a repetitious task that seems to have no end. While it might not occasion a joyful celebration, there is a still a sense of relief and satisfaction in having completed a load of wash and gotten everything folded and back where it belongs.

I also learned over time that, despite her over all cheerful countenance, Mom carried heavy burdens about which my childish mind remained blissfully ignorant. She was a “stay at home mom” when I was small, caring for me, my younger sister and my two other teenage siblings. In the depths of the great depression, Mom left college in her second year to find work to support herself. Her dream of finishing her degree program and pursuing a career died when she married my father and had us kids. Of course, in today’s world that would not have been an insurmountable barrier. Today we see many women in all stages of life entering college to begin or complete their studies and pursue careers. Few such opportunities existed when my mother was young. I do not believe I ever fully appreciated the sense of loss Mom felt for the possibilities precluded by the life choices she made.

Mom was not at all bitter about the way her life unfolded. Graditude for a life well lived was deeply imbedded in her character. Regret and resentment were not part of her DNA. But she was determined that her own four children would never find themselves in a situation where they had to choose between a college education and family obligations. She was committed to putting all four of us kids through college and sending us out into the world with an education. For that reason, every penny not spent for essentials went into college savings. For that reason, too, my family frequently did without amenities such as a clothes dryer. Whatever extra work such austerity generated was simply part of the price Mom was willing to pay to give us kids a shot at the dream which eluded her. That is what made her mundane house work-such as bringing in the sheets-an occasion for song. In every chore she did, Mom was sowing the seeds of her children’s future in anticipation of their one day reaping a rich harvest.

Much of our discipleship consists of work done in hope. We write out a check each week for the support of our congregations; show up to help with the neighborhood food distribution program; visit the sick; raise our children; care for our aging parents; teach Sunday School and Confirmation; speak the truth in love with firmness, compassion and courage. All of this can become tedious, repetitious and tiring. But we do it with songs of joy-even when we have to sing through our tears. We do it because, like the returning exiles, we are convinced that we are planting seeds for a better future, a future that God has promised. That future is a planet where all creatures can live, breath and thrive together in a sustainable fashion. It is a future in which no person need fear discriminationon in our schools and workplaces on account of their skin color, accent, national origin or the persons they love. It is a future in which no children ever have to wonder where the next meal is coming from, where they will spend the night or why they are being abused and neglected. It is a future where women and girls no longer fear sexual harassment and violence in our streets, college campuses and work places. The dream of God’s will done on earth as in heaven shapes everything we do. It is for this reason that Mom’s work was done with joyful confidence that she would one day “come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” Or perhaps sheets.

Here is the full text of Knowles Shaw’s hymn.

  1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
    Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
    Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
    • Refrain:
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
  2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
    Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
    By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. (Refrain)
  3. Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
    Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
    When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. (Refrain)

Source: This hymn is in the public domain. Knowles Shaw (1834 –1878) was born in southwestern Ohio, but his family moved to Rushville, Indiana when he was a few weeks old. He was a member of the Churches of Christ, also known as the Christian Church or Disciples of Christ at the time. Shaw’s father died when he was only ten, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings. Shaw was quick to learn most anything he put his hand to. He mastered shoemaking, cradle making, carpentry, watch repair and sewing. He also taught himself to play the violin his father had left him. Shaw was a prolific evangelist, known for his wit, knowledge of the Bible and ability to generate and maintain rapport with an audience. He baptized over eleven thousand people in his ministry. As noted above, Shaw was the author of the above hymn as well as others. You can read more about Knowles Shaw and sample more of his work at the following site.

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