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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

New Year's Day | Friday, January 1, 2021  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Ecclesiastes 3:1–13

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. (NRSV)

I have a holey Bible. There is pinprick-sized puncture square in the center of the “o” of the gold-lettered “Holy Bible” on the red leather front cover, and that puncture perforates all 890 Old Testament and all 261 New Testament pages, plus the glossary and maps in the back, before exiting the same way it came in, through red leather. I didn’t do it. It’s a used Bible. Otherwise, it’s in great shape, so I use it all the time at home. None of the pages are torn or dog-eared, and the previous owner left them almost completely untouched, except pages 616–620, which contain chapters 3 through 9 of Ecclesiastes. The margins of those pages hold a smattering of semicircle black ink brackets around specific verses. Verse 9:6 is bracketed, for example: “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.” So are three lines that make up the end of 5:4 and the beginning of 5:5, verses that instruct a person to “fulfill what you vow.” Why did someone mark these verses? And why is Ecclesiastes the only book in the entire Bible with any markings at all?

For this New Year’s Day, my reflections on Ecclesiastes 3:1–13 will limit themselves to verse 12, because that’s the verse my Bible-poking predecessor saw fit to mark. For my money, after the year we’ve just had, it’s a pretty solid choice: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.”

“Them” is the “workers” introduced in verse 9, whose gain the author wonders about relative to their toil. The conclusion that the best they can hope for in light of everything is happiness and enjoyment sounds almost hedonistic. It’s a close cousin to a later verse in Ecclesiastes, 8:15, which commends enjoyment by asserting “there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves.” It hardly sounds holy.

Think of it like this: our life is wholly God’s, from what we eat and drink to how we work and the way we feel about all of it. Those are not merely “physical” aspects of our life that contrast with “spiritual” elements like worship and prayer and service. All of it is our life in God, who knows all of it and holds all of it wholly in God’s care.

Happy new year.

“God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.” Amen.

(Prayer from James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing”)

Reflection written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Reflection © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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