Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – Lent 3
Welcome to spring! Yes, spring, or as we like to refer to it “mud season” has begun. Now, spring is awesome because it represents a re-birth of sorts. Soon, the snow will melt away, the crocuses will poke through the tired earth, and the woods will begin its annual transformation from the dull, lifelessness of winter, as it adorns itself with the green cast of new life. And, for me anyway, one of the special things about living in the Northwoods is experiencing these seasonal changes; becoming a part of these “natural rhythms.”
Now, in addition to the changing seasons, our lives are also subject to natural rhythms. This concept was not lost on the author of today’ text. Called Qua-hell-et in the original Hebrew, and Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes) in Greek, this wise person understood time quite differently from the way we often do in Western culture. You see, he wrote during a historical period that fell immediately after the Babylonian Exile, an event that taught the Hebrew people that the human experience wasn’t necessarily a walk in the park. It was a time of great fear, suffering, and change that was beyond their control.
Now, some see Ecclesiastes as the ultimate cynic. And maybe there’s some truth to that. Thirty-eight times throughout the course of this book the wisdom writer says, “All is vanity.” A little cynical I must admit, but I think I would call him more of a realist than a cynic, a practical theologian who refused to look at life through rose-colored glasses.
And we see this reflected in today’s reading. It catalogs the various seasons of life, right? Twenty-eight of them to be exact, arranged in sharp contrast to one another. And this list rings so true because it’s an undeniable part of our human existence. You see, the Author of Ecclesiastes understood that the universe unfolds according to its own inner logic and set of seasons. [i] And, this is key, that inner logic is not liner.
Maybe think of it like this. The existence of this planet with all of its diversity of life, from the first single-celled-ameba to the beautiful flora and fauna we enjoy today, have been evolving and changing for billions of years. But if we try to view creation through a liner lens, in other words, as a straight line with a beginning, middle, and end, then our entire existence might seem like a single grain of sand on an endless beach. But if we choose to view time as cyclical, like Ecclesiastes, like the endless changing of the seasons, then the nature of being begins to make more sense. We are all a part of the fabric of the universe, and when the season is right, we are born into this life. We live and then, someday, all of us will die, becoming a part of the universe again. “We are made from the dust of the earth,” The Hebrew Scriptures tell us, “and to it is to dust that we will return.”
Now, I realize that this is getting a bit philosophical. So, let’s move into the practical. Ecclesiastes, later in chapter 3, contends that one should not waste time and energy railing against life; instead, he advises that the best thing we can do is to be happy and enjoy this time on earth for as long as we can. To my ear, that’s good theological advice at its practical best. Since there are so many things over which we have no control, it’s a wise choice to be happy and to look for joy.
How? Well, I believe that joy: real, deep, lasting happiness is found in propagating and maintaining meaningful relationships. It begins with strong relationships with friends and family and expands to include a compassionate and a loving faith community that finds joy through fellowship within the congregation and by extending an extravagant welcome to others beyond the walls of the sanctuary. We can also find happiness in service to others, in the preservation and conservation of the environment; whenever we think of the other before self. And, finally, we can find true joy by deepening our spiritual connection with God.
Ah, you didn’t think I abandoned our Lenten Spiritual journey, did you? Of course not. There’s a great letting go of self, of stress, and of trying to do-it-all-on-our-own that comes with an intensifying relationship with the Sacred. And, there’s a deep abiding peace that indwells our being when give up worrying about those things we can’t control and instead, enjoy the gifts, the blessings, that God has given us.
And this connects us to Ecclesiastes’ other prescription for life. He set up these pairings of life events, these “complementary opposites” to borrow a term of Taoism, in such a way that the first set, “a time to be born and a time to die,” serve as the bookends to all the rest. What do I mean? Well, we’re born and while we are living this existence, we encounter all of these sets of opposing emotions and challenges and callings. We all experience, for example, the time to mourn, the time to dance, the time to gather in, and the time to let go.
My friends, God created time. God set the “natural rhythm” of reality; a rhythm that transcends this world and this life; a natural rhythm that is enhanced and understood, if even a tiny bit, by creating a deep, thoughtful, and life-long connection with our Creator. And as we continue on the journey of introspection that Lent has set us upon, and as spring once again blossoms around us and within our hearts, my prayer is that each of us will attempt to move ourselves a little closer to the reality of the Divine presence of God, in both our lives and to all the ends of the universe.
May it be so.
Amen & Amen.