On Monday I spoke at my grandmother's funeral, which was more difficult than I ever anticipated. She was 94 and had been declining in her health for some time, so her passing was not unexpected. Still, no amount of expectation truly prepares you for the sadness of losing a loved one, in this case, a woman who had been a major part of my entire life and most of my memories. When she died I immediately thought of Ecclesiastes 3 and chose that text to read and expound a bit at her funeral.
This text is probably one of the most recognized portions of Scripture (thanks in part to the Byrd's song from the 1960's). "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die..." Thus the Preacher of Ecclesiastes catalogues the ebb and flow of many opposite experiences that make up our lives, for example, "A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance...." Each positive experience has its hard counterpart.
We may read into this poem a tone of resignation, as if all we can do is acknowledge the variety of our experience and accept it. The key, however, is to incalculate what the Preacher says in verse 11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time." If there is a time for every experience, the good and the hard, we can at least be assured that each has its place in the design of a sovereign God. And these experiences, the good and the hard, are not just purposeful...they are "beautiful" in their time. We should see each season of life, and every experience thereof, as an invitation to approach the Lord, submit to his will and find His grace. This, I'm sure, is what makes even the hardest experience "beautiful" in its own time.
Verse 11 goes on to say, "He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." If we can not discern the grand outlines of God's marvelous plan, if we can not "find out the work that God does," we can at least be assured that the ebb and flow of life's opposite experiences are not a meaningless mass of contradictions. They are the rhythms of providence, and the movement of something much larger than we can see. Life and death, tears and laughter, war and peace - they are all part of a larger equation. It is left to us to trust....to simply trust and believe that God's providence is purposeful and beautiful in its time.
And, with "eternity in our hearts," we may know that life and death, joy and sorrow and all the many opposites of this poem do not make up the whole story. We were designed to yearn for something better and permanent. We were created to seek the eternal goodness of God through faith. Creatures with eternity in their hearts can only be satisfied by Him.
And so, we may take the Preacher's poem as a call to worship, suitable for every season and appropriate at every time. Whether we find ourselves in a time of joy or sorrow, we may trust in a good God who makes everything purposeful....indeed, beautiful..... in its own time.
These are a few of the thoughts that gave me comfort this week as the time to die finally came for a loved one.