Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent

Herr, lehre doch mich, daß ein Ende mit mir haben muß, und mein Leben ein Ziel hat, und ich davon muß.

Siehe, meine Tage sind einer Hand breit vor dir, und mein Leben ist wie nichts vor dir.

Ach, wie gar nichts sind alle Menschen, die doch so sicher leben. Sie gehen daher wie ein Schemen, und machen ihnen viel vergebliche Unruhe; sie sammeln und wissen nicht wer es kriegen vird. Nun Herr, wess soll ich mich trösten? Ich hoffe auf dich.

Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.

Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee.

Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gath er them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.

Psalm 39:4-7

When I know a musical setting of a Bible passage, I find that setting dominates how I hear the text. So it is with Psalm 39. Verses 4-7 are the primary text of the third movement of Brahms’ German Requiem. I invite you to do a quick online search and listen to a recording or two of “Herr, lehre doch mich” (Lord, teach me to know the measure of my days, that I must perish). The baritone soloist and the chorus play off each other throughout this movement and set the stage for the famous fourth movement, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.”

Many of the Psalms move from complaint and petition to solid confidence. Brahms’ setting of the Psalm does the same: it begins with a plaintive d-minor plea to be taught our mortality. Then there is a switch to the D-major “My hope is in you.” For the climax, Brahms adds a fantastic choral fugue on the familiar funeral text from Wisdom of Solomon 3:1: “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.”

Our walk from Ash Wednesday to Easter is also like this progression—a blunt and stern reminder of our mortality, a call to assess the meaning of our lives, and then a powerful affirmation that our lives are in the hands of God, for now and the future.

May we find profound hope and comfort this year in remembering who we are and whose we are.

Jack Reiffer

Appointed readings for today: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 5-9, Psalm 78:1-6, Matthew 5:17-19


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