Passage: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13 (New King James Version)
3 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
9 What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
As noted in the last devotional, taking on the corn maze from the inside can be challenging, even maddening. Worst case scenario, one continues to walk around, repeating the same mistakes, never finding the path out. The inside perspective of our passage from Ecclesiastes was similarly confounding, reminding us that amidst the complicated lives we lead, we should not overlook but the simple, good gifts God offers daily. Our third run at this passage, presents the outlook from above, a transcendent perspective, directing us to this passage’s truth within the full message of the Gospel. Like the view of the cornfield from overhead in Google Earth, we can see the entirety of the complex patterns of our journey – the turns, forks, junctions, and dead-ends we must encounter – and discern the true path through.
In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher speaks to the challenges of finding meaning in our lives. “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” The writer is at times mired in the endless striving which fills up his days. A confession: I have already acknowledged (in a previous devotional) that “life is hard”. One of my reasons for choosing this text from Ecclesiastes is that the Teacher voices the outlook that, on our bad days, on most days for some folks, resonates within our souls. “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Perhaps we are in a difficult relationship. Maybe our jobs have become rote and lack significance. Possibly, our caretaking of another person feels more like obligation and burden, than a labor of love and meaning. Maybe our age leaves our days full of repetitive tasks to fill our time but devoid of the joy we once experienced. I remember a time in my life when I could not imagine that life held any new wonder or surprise. Thoreau voiced the same sentiment when he said, ““The mass of [humans] lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of [hu]mankind.” His words encapsulate the outlook often articulated by the writer of Ecclesiastes.
But in today’s passage, the Teacher opens a window in the skies, to a view from above. “I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts.” From that position God’s presence can be recognized within the whole of our lives. We gain the perspective that the good news of Christ reveals. We can see God making everything beautiful in its time. We see God setting eternity in our hearts. What can that mean – “eternity in their hearts”— except that we are created to yearn for something from above, something more than our present ticks of the clock and cycles of the seasons? We are made to be in communion with the One who came to our world, but conveyed truth and meaning that transcends the truths offered by the world.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus proclaiming this message: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. If you do not believe that I am He, you will indeed die.” God entered time and broke its cycle of meaninglessness by doing a completely new thing through the cross and resurrection. Through our own dying with Christ and taking on of a new life in him, we can find the “view from above” for our lives. And this perspective enables us to bear through the hard times, to discover meaning in our struggles (perhaps like those of the present), even to find peace and joy among the simple gifts we are given during this time. This is the “eternity in our hearts” created in each of us, which was made wholly known in the person of Jesus. This is our new life in the Spirit breathed into us when we trust in the Risen One. This is the new life in Christ we can proclaim this Easter season.
Prayer: Lord Christ, be in our hearts that we might know of your presence. Be in our minds that we might see your purpose. Be in our actions that others who don’t know you might glimpse your goodness and mercy. Amen
Benedictus by Karl Jenkins
At 3:45 of the video the choir joins the orchestra singing the text below. At 5:20 the chorus erupts into a gorgeous proclamation fit for the empty tomb on Easter morning. (The images shown at 4:20 of the video are of a huge star-forming region in space, known as “The Pillars of Creation.” Heartfelt thanks to my friend, Jim Richardson, who has been such a special companion along the way this year. I know you will enjoy this.)
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest