It’s Easter Monday, and this is, perhaps, a story more about restoration than resurrection; but here is Naomi’s story as told at the Great Vigil of Easter at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, yesterday morning, Easter 2011:
It’s hard to believe, standing here today, that when I came back to Bethlehem I told them not even to call me Naomi anymore. “Call me Mara,” I said, “because my life has become one of bitter tears.” Yet here I stand, my name and my hope restored, holding my grandson in my arms. They say that where there’s life, there’s hope, and here is life, here is hope. God is good indeed.
It all began some years ago when we had a terrible famine here inJudea. My husband and I took our two sons and emigrated toMoab. In order to feed our sons, we left our home, our families, our culture and our community. It’s not easy being a stranger in a strange land. Our sons were young enough to adapt, though; after their father died they each married a local girl and they seemed happy enough. But then it all started to fall apart. First one died, then the other, and that was that: my husband and both sons, gone. The two girls and I were left with nothing; and it’s no life for a woman without a man out here, I can tell you.
I’d heard on the grapevine that the famine was over, so I decided that I should go home. At least inBethlehemI was not some strange old foreign widow, I was just a plain old ordinary widow; someone might show me some pity. I told my daughters-in-law, “Go home yourselves. Find new husbands. I’m too old to grow you each a new one!” Beyond the joking, there were bitter tears, I can tell you, but Orpah, good girl that she is, kissed me and went off home to start again.
But Ruth. Ruth was a different kettle of fish altogether. She wouldn’t leave my side. That girl, such love, such loyalty, such stubbornness: “Where you go, I go,” she told me. “Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die,” she said, and she would not be parted from me.
That girl. I loved her for loving me. Even so, when we got back toBethlehem, and I remembered all that I had lost, I was bitter. “Don’t call me Naomi,” I told the neighbors who came out to see us, “Call me Mara, which means Bitter in our language, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”
If leaving your country is hard, coming home can be even harder. I honestly think that I would have gone to pieces if it weren’t for Ruth. It caused quite a stir in the neighborhood, I can tell you, me turning up with this pretty young Moabite in tow, and while I stayed at home, nursing my grief, she went out to glean food for us in the fields.
Day by day, I began to see how Ruth’s love and steadfast loyalty was what kept us both going in those days. Here she was, a stranger in a strange land (and I knew what that was like), and she was here because of her love for me, and I, I had to stir myself at last and take care of her, because she loved me and, well, I loved her for it.
Well, it so happened that the field she chose belonged to a kinsman of my husband, by the name of Boaz. Now Boaz was clearly quite taken with Ruth, but he seemed a bit shy of closing the deal. But there are advantages sometimes to being an older woman who’s seen a bit of the world, and I told Ruth what to do, and lo and behold Boaz married her, and inherited my late husband’s fields and the care of his widow into the bargain. And we all lived, as they say, more happily than we had in many a long year.
It’s strange to think of it all. Here I am, Naomi of Bethlehem, widow of Elimelech, who used to have two sons and now, instead, I have a daughter. I used to have a husband and two sons, and now my husband’s cousin is my son-in-law. My daughter-in-law wouldn’t let me go, and because she loved me and followed me home, now I have a grandson, Obed, this little one here. “Your God is my God,” she told me. And God is good. Remember that, little one.