“Let me go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him
in whose sight I shall find favour.”
My thanks to Fr. Peter Harris and to St. Peter’s Cathedral for the privilege of being here and speaking to you this evening. I hope that this can be the beginning of an annual Choral Evensong in the Fall sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. There is something wonderfully calming, beautiful and intentional about Evensong. It is, dare I say, one of the glories of our Anglican witness to the Catholic Faith. I am most grateful for the wonderful musical offering of your choir. Actually, I think that all I have to say has been sung already in that lovely motet by Giovanni Croce. Gaudate et Exultate! “Rejoice ye and be exulatant,” uplifted, regardless of the hardships of life, even the hardships of persecution! Wonderful.
We seem to be very much in the company of grieving widows and sorrowing mothers! And yet we glean in the fields of Boaz to discover divine truth and human dignity. Perhaps, that is the real mission of the Prayer Book Society in times of uncertainty, of loss and sorrow. Perhaps, in so doing, we shall discover those “wholesome medicines of doctrine” delivered to us by such figures as St. Luke.
Naomi has lost her husband Elimelech and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who were also the husbands of her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, the latter after whom The Book of Ruth is named. Such situations, though sad, are hardly unique. You only need to think about your own families and your own communities to recall similar sadnesses, sorrows and losses. And yet, as Paul suggests in our second lesson from his Letter to the Philippians, such commonplaces of sadness and sorrow, the things that have happened, can be the cause of joy and rejoicing. Somehow such circumstances can be the occasions in which Christ can be honoured and glorified. In another words, Scripture gives us ways to face the hard and sad things of human life.
Probably written sometime after the Babylonian exile, The Book of Ruth with its timeless and reflective mood is notionally set in the time of the Judges. In the Christian Bible, it is found immediately after The Book of Judges. In a way, it is a kind of critical commentary on The Book of Judges, offering a completely contrasting account of Jewish identity and mission. The Book of Judges, like many of the early books of the Hebrew Scriptures, is written from a kind of exclusionary viewpoint with the emphasis upon Israel as the Chosen People separate and apart from the nations round about. It is a point of view that has a long pedigree. Over and against that stands another perspective which emphasizes the role and mission of Israel as “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” as Isaiah puts it and which the Nunc Dimittis from Luke’s Gospel repeats in our evening liturgy, the idea that what has been proclaimed to Israel is for all people, something universal in principle. These tensions define Jewish history and thought, oscillating between the one and the other, and in the Christian understanding resolved in Christ.