I have sat by the bedsides of many people as they took their final breath. Some of those deaths were slow and agonizing; others were peaceful transitions. All were sacred moments in which time seemed to stop and the veil between heaven and earth opened. The breath leaves the body and with it the spark of life—such a mystery. The soul unites with pure Love; pain and suffering are no longer. However, for those of us left behind, death can bring years of unresolved emotions and grief. Hopefully, death can also be a wake-up call for life.
As a teenager I remember watching a local production of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Toward the end of the play the character Emily dies in childbirth. She joins the dead but is granted her wish to return to earth to relive one day. As she relives her joyous twelfth birthday, she is overcome with deep sorrow because she realizes that she should have treasured every moment of her life. When she asks the storyteller if anyone truly understands the value of life while they live it, he responds that maybe the saints and the poets do—but no one else.
Today we sit at the feet of a poet who invites us to wake up to the glory of God’s creation and our part in it—from birth to death, using words to this effect, “Drink deeply of life: the love, hope, sorrow, and pain of it all. Ponder the miracle of your being and the web of all living things. Your passion, your gifts, your dreams, and your love are not to be squandered. The king of glory is knocking on your door. Open your heart; it is time to invite him in” (ap).
Open your heart to the treasures of this day.
Ruth and Psalm 146 share a thematic connection. Ruth is a foreigner who decides to follow the God of the Israelites, and the psalmist praises God for being the trustworthy God who cares about the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigner. In Ruth, Boaz will demonstrate this kind of care for her. The New Testament readings focus on sacrifice. Hebrews teaches us that Christ was both the greatest high priest and the eternal sacrifice. A scribe in Mark receives praise from Jesus, for he understands that the sacrificial system was less weighty than the act of loving one’s neighbor. Ruth and this scribe are examples of those, named and anonymous, who have come before us in the faith. We celebrate them on All Saints Day.
• Read Ruth 1:1-18. When have you left the familiar behind to set out into the unknown? Where did you experience God’s presence and help?
• Read Psalm 146. When you have found yourself in despair about the world, where have you witnessed God’s work that brings you hope?
• Read Hebrews 9:11-14. How willing are you to release your bag of sins and shortcomings to Jesus?
• Read Mark 12:28-34. In what ways do you understand yourself as a spiritual being having a human experience? What does that mean to you?
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