“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25a NRSV)
These challenging words from 1 Peter were put to music by Brahms in the second movement of his German Requiem. The verse compares humans to plants. We bloom gloriously for a season, but then wither and die. This temporary glory is beautifully portrayed by Brahms with a three-four rhythm mimicking a traditional German folk melody. The constant beat of the timpani, however, sounding like a death knell, reminds the listener that their glory will eventually wither and die. What endures is not our glory, but the word of the Lord. To express the hope in this eternal word, Brahms chose to end the movement with the verse from Isaiah 35:10: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” It triumphantly ends with the words “everlasting joy;” a joy, that has overcome sorrow and sighing; a joy that is eternal.
It is obvious that while we are in our glory, the flowering of our life, our focus too often is on the here and now. We preen and fuss in front of the mirror; we worry about the image our clothes and possessions will project. We put on all sorts of false faces to make others think we are perfect, hoping our pretense will be interpreted as glory. Now we have social media to further our image with our “vanity pictures” and “vanity lives.” We too seldom think about eternity.
Indeed, many parts of our lives are glorious. There are phenomenal vistas in nature to take our breath away. There are smiles exchanged between strangers passing each other in the hallway or on the street. There are the delightful giggles of babies and the joy that new life brings. There are daily acts of kindness that make life easier. The list could go on and on, if we would only take time to stop and reflect on them. However, these glorious things in our daily life have nothing to do with how we look or what we wear. Instead, they are glimpses of the eternal within our time and space. They are the “eternal word of the Lord” which breaks through time and space to touch us; to give us hope for life after life. They are the “thin places” where the transcendence and imminence of God touch each other and we sense the holy.
So why do we spend so much energy on the temporal that “moth and rust consume,” and so little time in discovering the “thin places” where God speaks to us? Which one gives more joy? Which one gives us more security? Which one makes us feel more alive?
The paradox of faith is that focusing on the eternal takes care of the temporal; puts it in its proper perspective.