MESSAGE FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT MINISTER
In the Old Testament there is an important idea which in Hebrew is called Chesed. This can be roughly translated as loving kindness, but it is more than just being nice to people – it is a kind of legal as well as moral obligation to do the right thing.
In their challenging book, Border and Belonging: The Book of Ruth, Pádraig Ó Tuama and the late Glenn Jordan explore this idea of Chesed in the context of this great story which is partly set within the borders of Israel’s despised neighbour, Moab. When Naomi loses first her husband and then her sons she is left in Moab with her Moabite daughters in law, Ruth and Orpah. Within the moral code of the time, she owes them Chesed and she must find them new husbands, (literally she must herself give birth to new sons for them to marry) but this is clearly impossible and so she tells them she is going home to Israel and gives them permission to return to their fathers’ houses. Ó Tuama and Jordan wonder if Naomi’s real intention is to go off into the wilderness and die. She is in a foreign country and has lost everything - her husband, her two sons and her whole family’s future. And now she cannot fulfil Chesed. She has nothing to live for and surely the wilderness will welcome her? But Orpah and Ruth work out what she is doing, and they have a plan to save Naomi. Orpah will return to her father’s house and Ruth will stay with Naomi to stop her doing harm to herself. You know the rest of this extraordinary story – Ruth eventually becomes the grandmother to the greatest in Israel’s history – David.
I like this interpretation of the story as it reminds us that we can all find ourselves in situations where we just cannot fulfil our obligations to do loving kindness. There are many parents who, despite working hard cannot afford to properly feed their children. There are medical staff in our hospitals who do not have the resources to give the full treatment to every Covid patient. There are care home staff who have to watch their residents deteriorate from sheer loneliness because they cannot allow them to see their families. We may not call it Chesed but we understand Naomi’s predicament. It is a predicament of our times too.
As we prepare for what will probably be our second Easter in lockdown we are reminded that the disciples were also faced with a predicament that overwhelmed them. Although they had assured Jesus that they would follow him to the ends of the earth they probably never thought that this would mean facing death. They wanted to follow him but in the end they ran away, denied him, and even betrayed him. Chesed was beyond them too. Jesus faced arrest, trial, torture, and death alone. There was no Ruth to walk with him.
Yet the story of Easter, and indeed the story of Ruth, reminds us that new possibilities can emerge from hopeless situations. The disciples ran away but when Jesus rose again they were understood and forgiven; when Naomi could not fulfil Chesed she instead, found it offered to her. Easter is about God’s love overcoming our stultifying predicaments and finding unexpected and new ways to make loving kindness possible.
My hope and prayer are that this Easter we will discover new signs of loving kindness in our lives, communities and in our world. Indeed, my hope and prayer are for more than that – that as we emerge from Lockdown and hopefully find life resuming a new normal - that we will have discovered that despite our hardships and pain God has been working miracles around us.
May God bless you this Easter
With my love and prayers