These summer months, while bringing the blessing of gorgeous weather, has also brought to us more than a fair share of funerals; Stephen Fleming, Dale Robichaud, Dale Murphy, Kristen O’Connor. In the light of this, our responsorial psalm this Sunday, psalm 90, gives us a timely reflection on the need for recognition of our human mortality.
In the opening verses of the psalm, the eternity of God is highlighted….“from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” This is followed by a reflection on the fragility and shortness of human life (vv 3-4). The mention of mortals “returning to dust” (v.4) echoes the curse God puts on human life because of the sin of our first parents: “from dust you came and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 2:7; 3:9). There is a contrast between God in his agelessness and the human person as a passing shadow. Our first reading from the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of the futility of human existence and toil when everything is destined to pass away, so why bother seeking after material things and new pleasures? The recurring phrase “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Eccles 1:2) is a play on the Hebrew word hebel, which means, literally, a ‘vapour” or “a wisp of smoke”- figurative for futility or emptiness. The responsorial psalm goes on to give another image drawn from the natural world to show the meaninglessness of life. Like short-lived grass under the oriental sun, human life is brief and transient (v.5).
Such sober thoughts lead to a prayerful plea for the experience of God’s presence whose absence has been felt; “Give us joy to balance the years when we knew misfortune …Bless and prosper the work of our hands.” God’s presence is sufficient to make a limited life span a period of happiness and prosperity. A little later on in Ecclesiastes we come upon the surprising statement that God “has placed a sense of the eternal” in men’s hearts (3:9), even though the writer does not have a belief in eternal life. We are in such a better place than the unfortunate Ecclesiastes, in that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can look forward, beyond this life, to spending eternity in God’s presence in heaven. As our second reading today puts it: “Brothers and sisters, you were raised with Christ…when Christ your life appears (at the end of time), then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
A contemporary worship leader, Robin Mark, writes in one of his songs: “We are a moment, You are forever” – words which our first reading and psalm would agree with. Let such reflections, in the light of the number of recent funerals, urge us to come to a full hearted belief in Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life!