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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, December 31, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. (NRSV)

Perhaps because the long list of “a time to”s in verses 1–9 are so famous and so ingrained, verses 10–15 are what grabbed me. As I read a few different translations in an effort to unravel ideas that were getting knotted up in my head, I was fascinated by the differences in verse 11. Check these out:

NRSV (above): [God] has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of the past and future into their minds . . .

New American Bible: [God] has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts . . .

Jewish Publication Society: [God] brings everything to pass precisely at its time; he also puts eternity into their minds . . .

King James: [God] hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart . . .

What a feast to ponder on this “last day”!

At the very least it gives me a frame through which to examine what has happened in 2019. From God’s perspective (the long view), it has been suitable, appropriate, precise, and even beautiful. If I can tap into what God has placed in my heart and mind—the time-bound (the past and the future) and the timeless (eternity)—maybe I will be able to see it that way, too.

According to the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, toward the end of his life, St. Benedict “saw the whole world in a single ray of light.” Transcendent moments like that, like what the teacher in Ecclesiastes is nudging us toward, are to be found in the daily cycle of rending and sewing, weeping and laughing, slaying and healing, being born and dying.

What a mystery. What a blessing.

God of past and present and future, you who live with us in time and exist beyond it, grant us the grace to remember that each day, each year, is a gift. Help us to steward them well, so that when we are called to return what has been given, you will be pleased. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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