In the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye sings a song during the wedding procession of one of his daughters that reflects his acute awareness of the passing of time and opportunities that need to be valued when they appear.
This movie is one of my all-time favorites. It reflects a difficult time in Russian history, under czarist rule in 1905 when anti-Jewish propaganda was being spread, inciting fear and hatred of Jews, and pograms were used against them to keep them controlled. Pograms were organized killings of a minority.
The fictional town of Anatevka was based on a small village outside Kyiv, Ukraine.
History has a way of repeating itself. Especially if we refuse to learn from the past.
Life is brief, and nobody knows what will follow the dash on a tombstone. A beginning and an end. Sunrise and sunset.
What I loved about this movie was that, even in their harsh circumstances, with little money, difficult living conditions, and the constant cloud of eviction hanging over their heads, they found a reason to celebrate and enjoy life. They understood that what they had didn’t define them. Their identity was in who they were, a community of Jewish people who lived life together despite the challenges presented to them. They looked at life through a lens of hope, that they were more than what they owned.
The Bible speaks of what is worth valuing, what is worth pursuing–and it’s not more stuff. After all, we can’t take anything with us once we die.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroy them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21
We tend to prize our belongings, items we can point to with pride of ownership. In a social media culture, our stuff defines us more than our character. What Tevye and his friends in Anatevka understood was that whatever you have here can be taken away from you.
Then what are you?
It’s why in the crash of October 1929 so many wealthy people who lost everything committed suicide. They couldn’t imagine who they were without what they had.
With every sunrise and sunset, with every day that passes, we have the chance to choose what matters.
“Sunrise, sunset; sunrise, sunset. Swiftly fly the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.” (Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and composer Jerry Bock from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”.)
There will be happiness and tears in each of our lives. No matter how famous or rich we are. What lasts are the treasures we store up in heaven–knowing Jesus and allowing Him to pay the price for our brokenness, which gives us a new heart; helping those in need around us; not seeking fame or fortune, but seeking God and living for others.
That way we can welcome each sunrise with hope and not regret our day when the sun sets.