A friend in Malaysia, a University worker in Melbourne, a Pastor here in Sydney, independently, beginning to preach through Ecclesiastes.
I thought that 2021 would be the year of recovery and so Acts would be a good choice to preach, but I was wrong, 2021 has turned out to be an even more severe version of lockdown limitation than 2020.
In lockdown, people have more time to think about the big issues of life, Ecclesiastes is therefore a good choice for pandemic preaching because it gives attention to these issues.
Ecclesiastes is part of the Wisdom literature in the Bible and as such it sets out to reveal some aspect of reality and show how the wise are to harmonise with that reality.
Biblical wisdom is all about how to live in harmony with reality.
What then is the reality being revealed in Ecclesiastes?
Ecclesiastes is all about the seeming vanity of life, life is a vapour, lacking substance, ‘under the sun’. The book is largely the secularist’s bible within the Bible. If a person limits their observations to life on this planet, without any consideration of reality beyond, what can be seen or experienced here, it is all a vapour!
The very repetitive nature of life, semester 2, following semester 1, the farming cycle, the final year dividend following the interim dividend, the monotonous daily grind, all feed life’s sense of vanity.
Pleasure, projects, death, corruption, wealth accumulation, oppressive power, inevitability, and even religion’s wordy vows, display life’s seeming futility ‘under the sun’.
Pandemic lockdown week 1, as I write, we are in week 8 and no end in sight, every day, whether it’s Monday, Tuesday or Saturday, doesn’t seem to matter, because every day seems the same. The well known list of ‘ there is a time…’ in Chapter 3, but there is no, ‘there is a time to be isolated and a time rejoin the human race’, even that would have some hope!
In Chapter 12 the writer takes us to the Nursing Home, to describe those on the brink of death, these are the ones who are about to become dust, returning to the earth, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’, Ecc 12:8.
The quest for meaning, here on earth is as hopeless as another 11am Press conference.
For the secularist, life is a long winded, 70 or 80 year vapour.
So how do the wise harmonise with this reality? Unsurprisingly the writer urges us to go beyond the sun, to lift our frame of reference, to reverence God and obey him, ‘Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil’, Ecc 12:13-14.
Life here, under the sun, is like being in the dressing room before the performance or the game, the big event is coming, the judgement is around the corner, so reverence God because you will meet him and give him an account of your living, now, then.
The challenge for the preacher of Ecclesiastes is how to preach this book, the bulk of which is about life’s futility, without adding to the sense of meaninglessness which our people may be feeling in the isolation of never ending lockdown.
The vocabulary of Ecclesiastes is very similar to Paul’s vocabulary in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses words like vain, futile and pitiable in 1Cor 15:12-19. Paul’s use of these words is in response to the question of Christ’s resurrection, ‘if Christ has not been raised’.
If Christ has not been raised, then there is no resurrection for us, then this life is all there is, that’s what all the Greek philosophers had said, so, ‘let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’, 1 Cor 15:32.
Living life under the sun, as if this life is all there is, is the equivalent of life lived without resurrection hope.
But Christ has been raised, the first fruits of a great harvest to follow, 1 Cor 15:20, therefore this life, fearing and loving our creator and living in friendship with him, means that all we do in the Lord, ‘is NOT in vain’, 1 Cor 15:58.
Ecclesiastes is the book addressed to the secularist, look for meaning in things, power, wealth, pleasure, it is a foolish quest, God has made us for himself and nothing can fill that God designed space but God himself. There is a God, he has visited this planet in the orbit of the sun, he has amazingly died and been raised as victor over death, and he is the Judge we will all one day meet. Life now is about living for Him and in that living, a person will know true life, ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement but has passed from death to life’, John 5:24.
In days of pandemic lockdown it is good to be reminded that this life is not all there is, eternity is much longer than these 70 or 80 years.
Reverence God and obey him, trust in his most precious gift, his Son, this life was never meant to
be lived just ‘under the sun’, and so your life will not be a vaporous vanity.