a sermon by
R. Charles Grant, D.Min.
Bon Air Presbyterian Church - Richmond, Virginia
Festival of All Saints – November 5, 2000
The Festival of All Saints has long held a special place of affection for me. I presided at the communion table for the first time some twenty-two years ago, at an intimate All Saints gathering on a Wednesday evening. All Saints also is closely linked with launching of the protestant reformation on "All Hallows Eve" – Halloween – or All Saints Eve. All Saints even has its own special hymn – which happens to be my favorite hymn by my favorite contemporary church musician. And over the years the festival of All Saints has gained deeper meaning for me as I remember not just the mighty martyrs, heroes and heroines of the faith, but individual, personal, beloved saints of my life as well. And I suspect it may the same for you as well.
All Saints Day originated as a commemoration of martyrs and other saints who did not have their own specific feast day. It began as early as the year 608, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated to Christian worship the old Roman Pantheon.
Another cherished celebration is All SOULS Day, which falls on November 2. All Souls Day dates to at least 998 and the Abbot at the Benedictine monastery of Cluny. All Souls Day commemorates ALL of the faithful who have died, "all the saints who from their labors rest".
Both All Souls and All Saints Day are about making Holy Remembrance. Holy because it is about our faith and all that is sacred and mysterious about life. And remembrance because on All Saints we bring to active memory the life and love we have shared with those now deceased. Holy Remembrance.
Our text for today from the story of Ruth and Naomi is about holy remembrance. The Israelite couple Naomi and Elimelech leave the famine of their homeland and settle in the nearby country of Moab. There they have two sons who marry local Moabite women. But things do not go well for this family. Elimelech dies, and then Naomi’s sons die. She is left alone in a strange land with her two daughters in law. Given the cultural norms of the day, the three were in a desperate situation. As the story of Ruth develops, it turns out that a beautifully fulfilling life awaits these two women. But at this point in the novella, we have no way of foreseeing that. Being unmarried, neither Ruth nor Naomi could own land or engage in any honorable livelihood. Being childless, they had no hope that their lives would improve. So Naomi resolves to return to her homeland, and she bids farewell to her daughters in law Orpah and Ruth. Naomi and Orpah say their good-byes, but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side. Even though her present life was empty and her future was bleak, Ruth refused to separate herself from Naomi. Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Ruth begs Naomi. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried.
Both Orpah and Ruth lived with holy remembrance. They loved and honored their mother in law as they loved and honored their deceased husbands. But Ruth goes beyond remembrance. Ruth acts decisively in the present, changing her life and even her religious faith! Ruth bound herself to Naomi out of loving remembrance for her dead husband. But she also loved Naomi, and in the absence of a man to protect her, Ruth was prepared to honor and care for Naomi herself. Ruth’s holy remembrance was enacted in a deed of deep compassion and self-giving love.
These words from Ruth are often included in the wedding service – the promise Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried…is taken as a form of marriage vow.
But the vow of Ruth is more inclusive, and in a sense more far reaching than even a wedding vow. For what Ruth is pledging to Naomi - who has no connection by blood or law to Ruth - is her whole life, her faith, her very being – all because of her reverential love for Naomi.
Love is also the theme of our gospel text for today. The setting is a familiar one: a scribe comes to Jesus to debate the nature of religious obligation. What is unusual is that in this story the two usual antagonists agree – something about as likely to happen as Gore and Bush agreeing in that verbal slugfest known as the Presidential debates!
Jesus and the scribe agree that the basic obligation of faith is to LOVE GOD and LOVE THE NEIGHBOR. This basic faith obligation is rooted in the act of holy remembrance that stands at the center of the Hebrew religion – the faith Jesus and the scribe shared. The commandment to love is introduced by the words, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one… Called the "Shema", these words are among the first words of faith: remember that God is one – THEREFORE, love God with all of your being – and love your neighbor even as you love yourself.
So, holy remembrance and a life of faithful love are all tied up together. Remembering the loving goodness of God leads us to love God and love the neighbor. And leading a life of love is the true measure of what we remember and WHOM we remember. For the life of faith is a life of love. We remember the saints when we express our faith through concrete and ordinary deeds of compassion and love. And we are guided in our lives of love by our remembrance of the saints through whom we have known the love of God.
And so today we are gathered in worship and Holy Communion. We are here because of the love of God we have experienced through the life and faith and love of all the saints. We are here because we remember that God first loved us, empowering us to love God and love our neighbor. We are here in Holy Remembrance.
The old STAR TREK TV series always included in the beginning credits, "Boldly going where no man has dared to go before!" By the grace of God, we are not called to go where no one has dared to go before. We are simply called to go where the saints have gone before. We are called to honor their memory by following in their footsteps. We are called to live as they lived and to love as they loved. We are called to echo those words of Ruth, "Where you go, I will go." Now, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. AMEN.
28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29Jesus answered, "The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these." 32Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." 11But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me." 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16But Ruth said,
18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
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