Whenever I hear that line - and the rest of Ecclesiastes 3, with a time for this and that – I think of the Byrds. They’re the group that went to #1 with the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 encompassing close to the entirety of the lyrics for “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which they recorded and released in 1965.
The song was originally written by anti-war activist/songwriter Pete Seeger in the late 50’s and recorded in 1959. The Byrds made it an iconic pop song a few years later, but it has been covered by at least a dozen artists over the last 50+ years, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Dolly Parton. The most recent rendition was the Byrd’s Jim McGuinn teaming up with Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris for the soundtrack and ending credits of the 2014 film, “The Song.”
The original master recording by the Byrds required 78 takes over five days in the studio.
So clearly the song resonates with multiple generations of listeners, just as the song of Ecclesiastes 3 has touched the hearts of millions of believers since King Solomon beat Pete Seeger to it around 931 BC.
The pairs of contrasts throughout the poem are somewhat stark and fairly obvious, but put together under the banner of “A Time for Everything” in verse 1, this really becomes a Song of Life. From beginning to end, and everything in between, God moves our times along according to His purpose. Perhaps the central tenet of faith in Christ is growing in our understanding that God’s perfect purpose for us always has perfect timing, even when we would tend to disagree. But God knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t. He has a time for everything.
The 14 pairs of activities under heaven described by Solomon are certainly thought provoking, to say the least, but I keep coming back to v. 4: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. I have been in one of those seasons of life where the weeping and mourning, in terms of time served, have significantly outpaced the laughing and dancing.
Much of life is spent in between, but the extremes reveal the best and worst in a believer. Peter (the Apostle, not Seeger) explains this when he describes our sufferings and hardships as having the purpose to prove our faith is for real (1 Peter 1:3-9). Some days – some hours, even – our time is… ok. Others, not so much.
What gets us out of the first one and into the second? How can we make it from tears to laughter, from mourning to joy?
Both of those are the wrong questions. It’s not a What or a How. It’s Who.
Standing in the gap is Jesus Christ Himself. He crucifies our crying and our dying, and He rolls the stone away to restore life to our laugh and our dance. Make no mistake: He also stands there with us, when we think our tear ducts have to be empty, only to discover we’re wrong.
And He’s standing right by us at the side of the bed and next to the casket, and He walks back into the house with us when the funeral is done, when we’re desperately searching for purpose, and for some prescription or plan that will fill the huge hole in our life.
He is the purpose. He is the prescription. He is the plan.
“I am with you always.”
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Jesus wipes every tear from our eyes, because He has stolen the sting out of sin and death. He cried, too, right before He raised a dead man back to life. He doesn’t exterminate all weeping and mourning from our existence – not yet. Otherwise we would not be real, nor would heaven. Jesus puts a time limit on them. He then restarts our time with reason to laugh and to dance.
When He finally sets us free from this life and welcomes us into the next, there will be no time for crying or mourning, because He will then have destroyed the causes, the reasons for those activities under heaven. Their time is over. His plan for us in heaven is all laughing and dancing. “Eternal” means “timeless” – no clocks, no calendars, no time. Joy without ceasing, in life with no end.
This is why our time back here under heaven is designed to be a foretaste of the feast, the banquet that is to come. Before, during and after, we will find, right there in the middle of it all, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This reminds me of another song: Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” The theme of that song says, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance … I hope you dance.”
I think Jesus wants us to dance, too. It’s time.