The family in Moab
1 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. 2 The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
3 But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. 4 They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
6 Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
10 But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”
11 Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord’s will has come out against me.”
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
Thoughts on the passage:
There are a lot of reasons that people use a pulpit when delivering the sermon. One of them is that it clearly gives a sense of stature to the preacher because they are speaking, in part, on behalf of God. Every week I pray that God might use me, and the Holy Spirit might speak through my words to touch and inspire people. Today, as we celebrate the saints who have passed away in the last year, I find myself unable to use the pulpit. Rather, I prefer to leave it open, perhaps in the hopes that someone worthier than me might step forward to bring us a message. Like all of you, I find myself overwhelmed at times by the mystery of death, and even the promises of new life that our faith brings us can still leave me with more questions than answers.
I wish I could tell you exactly what happens when a person dies. I wish I knew exactly what heaven is like. I can give you vague generalizations, but even scripture at times paints confusing visions for what is to come. In the end, I think we are better served to trust in the promise of a new life that is given to us, even if we do not know what that will be like. We are better served to trust that no matter what, God loves us and is with us, in this life and in the life to come.
Rather than try and decipher the mysteries of heaven, I wanted to instead reflect on the impact that the saints we celebrate still have on us here on earth. While we trust that they have gone on to something greater and more wonderful, we know that there are ways that they are still present with us. Today we light candles and remember the lives they lived, the impact they had, and the presence of Christ that shined in them.
Our passage today deals with the passing away of three men, a father and two sons. These three men left behind three widows, the mother, Naomi, and two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. What we see in this story is the effect that these three men had on the people they left behind.
In those days, there was a tradition that when a husband passed away without having a child, the widow would marry one of her brothers-in-law and that the first child they had together would carry on the name and lineage of her first husband (rather than the actual father). For Ruth and Orpah this creates a problem. Since both of their husbands have died leaving them childless, there is no other brother-in-law to marry. As Naomi explains, even if she did have another son (difficult since she is already herself widowed) it would be years before that son would be old enough to marry them and provide for them.
Recognizing this problem, Naomi seeks to release Orpah and Ruth from their ties to her. Naomi is returning to the land of her kin but feels that Ruth and Orpah would have better luck staying in Moab where their people are than following her back to Judah. Orpah takes her up on this offer, but Ruth declines. Instead, she makes an even greater commitment. Despite being a Moabite, Ruth pledges herself, not only to Naomi, but to God saying, “Where you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”
Even the person that had brought Ruth and Naomi together had died, his effect on their lives was continuing. He was still with them in the relationship and connection that they had to each other. There is a lot more to the story of Ruth than this one passage, but in it we are reminded of the power that comes in relationships and those relationships have power even after we pass away.
Today we are remembering and honoring the saints in our lives. These are people who have influenced our lives. Even though they have gone on to somewhere better, their presence is still felt by us. When we light our candles, we remember them. We also are reminded that they are still with us. We celebrate their continued impact on our lives.
When her sons passed away, Naomi gave into despair and tried to send away her daughters-in-law. She wrongly felt that once her sons were dead, there was not value in the connection. Instead, Ruth was willing to stay, because she knew how important that connection still was. Today, we honor the connections we have to those who have passed away. They are sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. They are friends and neighbors. They are co-workers and fellow church members. Though they may have passed on, their connections are still felt by us. We who are left are brought closer together by their passing.
When we share today in communion, we remember that we are one together in the body of Christ. We are one with Christ Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again for us. We are one with the first disciples who took bread with Christ. We are one with each other as we gather again today to remember that last supper. We are one with the saints who have gone before us and whose memories we still cherish. For all this we give thanks to God. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
Who are the saints in your life that you still feel connected to?
What are ways that you like to remember those who have passed away?
What do you think of when you here the phrase “communion of the saints”?
God of new life, we give you thanks for your unending love and grace that touches us not only in the here and now, but goes with us into the next life as well. Help those of us in this life to not be too dazzled by the mysteries of death, that we cannot remember your presence with us. Comfort those who mourn this day and grant them your peace. Help us to remember that the saints in our lives never leave us, but remain connected to us, even as they go on to something greater.