Pardon me for taking a detour from the lectionary, but as I read this psalm last night, I felt that I needed to write a little bit about it to allow myself to process it more and hopefully shed some insight, as clumsy as it may be, on what the psalmist is singing.
If you haven't read it CLICK HERE.
I am very familiar with this psalm. Actually, I became familiar with it the first time by singing a setting of the text by British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams and then American composer Charles Ives' setting as well. As I read the verses, I hear what the composers did and how they treated it musically. I am inclined to discuss it from a musical standpoint, but that's not the intention of this blog.
I get a sense of the expansiveness of our God by reading the first few verses. In my first grade choir at the church I serve, I asked them about the kingdom of God and what that means. Of course, they have a much better handle on the word "kingdom" than adults do. If God rules in his kingdom, then how far does this kingdom reach? I posit that the kingdom is over all of Columbia. "No!" they say. "South Carolina?" "NO!" "Okay, the whole earth?" "NOO!" Finally, we settle that God's kingdom is all of creation, the WHOLE universe! As much as we say these things, we will never come to terms with the expansiveness of God, and his kingdom while we have finite minds. Nevertheless, over all of creation, from one generation to another, "you are God" the psalmist sings in verse two.
"For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night. You sweet us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass." And there you have it. The thing we are denying the most about ourselves--our mortality. In our minds, most of us cannot conceive of dying or even its possibility, but we can't escape it in others. People are dying all around us. They leave their lives having lived well or not well and the wise "like the vain and stupid" all die (psalm 49). But, what is important is not that we are going to die or that life is short, but the psalmist's response--"So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." Dying is the reality of life and what life we live is summed up in "toil and labor" (v. 10), but the psalmist's desire is to redeem the time that he has--to make the most of each day. Our years pass by and we grumble and observe that time is flying but the psalmist urges God to prosper his work, the work of his hands.
God is so expansive, his kingdom is for a thousand generations and will never die, but we in our flesh will die. We will return to the sacred earth from which God formed us. But, our lives are time to be redeemed and the work of our hands is our investment into eternity. The older we get, the more we hope that we're doing something worthwhile.
Prosper our work, Lord. Prosper the work of our hands and teach us to redeem our days, for we are in your keeping. Amen.