“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
― David M. Eagleman
One of the things that haunts me about this quote is the way it captures the scope and finality of Death. Death is the great enemy. Death is always more horrible than we imagine it to be, never less. The more I have thought about it, the more I believe that Eagleman has captured something deeply biblical in these words.
One day, my body will catastrophically fail in its most basic duties. My neural synapses will cease to fire. My heart will beat no more. My blood will congeal in my veins. My lungs will exhale and be still. And my eyes will go dark. This is a death, and I fear its coming.
One day, my presence will be gone from the face of the earth. Sue reaches for me in the night but I am not there. My sons, joking at the table, listen for my laughter and are met with silence. Every time those who love me gather, I am always missing. Never there to cry or love or hold or argue with. This too, is a death, and I fear its coming.
One day, the very idea of me will pass forever from the memory of the world. People who loved me deeply will forget what I looked like. Others will struggle to recall the sound of my voice. And the moment when my name is spoken for the last time, my personhood — all that constituted Derek Mondeau in the world — will be erased from existence. This is Death that is greater than death, and I fear its coming most of all.
Over the last seven weeks, through the book of Ruth, we have explored the idea of HESED — God’s promise-making, covenant keeping, ever-faithful love. We have examined this love from every angle the text has presented us. We have seen that love suffers. Love commits. Love works. Love protects. Love provides. Love risks. This week we will discover that Love Redeems.
And the question at the center of Ruth 4:1-12 is this: If death destroys to the uttermost, can love redeem to the uttermost? Another way of saying it would be, If there is a death worse than physical death, can love save us from that?
As the drama of Ruth’s story unfolds, we will discover that this narrative is not really about her, or Boaz or even Naomi. The story is not even primarily about saving Elimilech’s name. The book of Ruth is a parable of how the covenant God, The Lord, redeems the world from the Death that is worse than death. And he does so by the power of His love. Ruth is nothing less than the retelling of the story of our Redemption.
In preparation for worship, reflect about your own life and the places where Death has touched it. If Death is something you have less experience with, than it could be helpful to consider the “deaths” of a broken relationship, physical suffering, mental or emotional trauma, spiritual warfare, or unjust persecutions or trials. As you reflect, take some time to:
Ask the Lord this question: What do you want to say to me about the ways that Death has invaded my life?” Listen for his response. Spend some time writing down what you hear, or if visited by the gift of God’s silence, write your own thoughts that come to mind.
Consider praying the following prayer from Every Moment Holy by Rabbit Room Press. Prayer can be an opportunity to be shaped by the love of God even as we suffer. As 1 Thessalonians says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”
Do not waste my greatest sorrows, O God,
But use them to teach me to live
in your presence — fully alive to pain and joy
and sorrow and hope — in the places
where my shattering and your shaping meet.
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1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian- redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.
2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”
“I will redeem it,” he said.
5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”
6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.
9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”