MidWeek Musing for 3/30/2022 - Joy Comes in the Morning
Recently I came across an article about the late senator John McCain. I knew he had been a prisoner of war and was a hero for our nation, but the article (which was political in nature but I won't discuss that here) did pique my curiosity and make me want to learn more about the US Senator from Arizona who passed away from brain cancer in 2018.
Thankfully because of both Google and Wikipedia it was not at all difficult to learn the details about him.
According to the net (that’s a hip slang term for internet), John McCain was seriously injured while serving our nation in the Vietnam War and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese Army on October 26, 1967.
McCain had been flying a mission over Hanoi when his plane was shot down. He fractured both arms and one leg when he ejected from the aircraft. Additionally, he nearly drowned after he parachuted into a lake. However, some North Vietnamese pulled him ashore, saving him from drowning only to crush his shoulder with a rifle butt. McCain was then transported to Hanoi's main prison camp, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton".
Although he was seriously injured, his captors refused to give him needed medical treatment. He was beaten and interrogated by his captors as they tried unsuccessfully to get information from him. McCain would probably have died, but through news reports in the US media that he was a POW, the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was an admiral. Thus, he was spared, as his captors hoped to use McCain as leverage with the US military.
McCain then spent six weeks in a North Vietnamese hospital, where he received marginal care. Records show he lost 50 pounds and his hair turned completely white.
McCain was then sent to back to a prison camp. In December 1967, McCain was placed in a cell with two other Americans, who did not expect him to live more than a week. Later in the spring of 1968, McCain was placed into solitary confinement, where he remained for two years.
While in this confinement McCain was subjected to a program of severe torture. According to witnesses he went through periods when he was bound and beaten every two hours. Additionally, during much of this punishment he was also suffering from heat exhaustion and dysentery.
According to McCain’s memoirs, all of this brought him to "the point of suicide," but his preparations were actually foiled by the guards.
Eventually, after some of the most extreme torture he received, McCain did make an anti-U.S. propaganda "confession." In fact, numerous U.S. POWs were tortured in order to extract "confessions" and propaganda statements; virtually all POWs eventually yielded something to their captors in order to stop the mistreatment, if only for a brief time.
McCain, however, felt so guilty about the confession that he refused to sign additional statements. Because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements, McCain received at least two to three beatings weekly.
In all McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years, until his release on March 14, 1973, along with 108 others. His wartime injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. After the war, McCain experienced PTSD. Later in his life, accompanied by his family, he returned to the site of his torture in an effort to attempt to mentally come to terms with what had happened to him.
The whole five-and-a-half-year experience must have felt like a nightmare – I can only describe what I learned about McCain’s treatment as hell on earth.
But on March 14, 1973, the unexpected but long hoped and prayed for day of release from his captors must have felt like a wonderful dream.
I am certain I cannot imagine either the pain he endured or the joy he discovered when he regained his freedom.
But I think that was the type of joy the Psalmist was trying to convey in the 126th Psalm.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4 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 great Presbyterian theologian and scholar Matthew Henry, who in 1706 published a six volume Complete Commentary on the Bible which provides an exhaustive look at every verse in holy scripture, says of the 126th Psalm, “It was with reference to some great and surprising deliverance of the people of God out of bondage and distress that this psalm was penned, most likely their return out of Babylon…”
I believe that this Psalm and the late Senator John McCain intersect because while they never forgot the bondage and the pain, they endured both as a nation and as a soldier while in captivity they came out on the other side determined to remember their release from bondage and to live with that joy.
Both the Hebrew people and McCain used their tears to seek opportunities to plant seeds of hope and comfort and to shout joy for the goodness and mercy of God who did not forget them in their suffering.
It is a lesson we can all learn. A reminder that even in the hardest days—even when facing death—we are promised “Joy Cometh in the Morning.” (Psalm 30:1)
In fact, joy would not be recognized without the struggle that gets us there. I guess that is why I have enjoyed returning to in-person events so much in recent days as we emerge from the pandemic. It is from this struggle that I have found renewed joy in being in-person with one another.
Indeed, this joy is what we discover at the end of hard work and struggle when finally, we are able to gather the harvest that God provides. The Psalmist describes this as carrying or bringing in sheaves. This is of course the inspiration for the Old Hymn whose words seem so appropriate for our calling of doing the good that is ours to do wherever we have been placed.
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.
o 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.
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.
If you are not familiar with this hymn, I have added a link to it on YouTube. I selected the Tennessee Ernie Ford rendition via 8 track; I remember with great fondness listening to it with my grandfather. And I look forward with joy to that promised day when we will hear it again together.