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Sermons on the Blessed Sacrament
Preached in the Oratory of S. Margaret's, East Grinstead

by John Mason Neale, D.D.

London: H. R. Allenson, n.d.


"Boaz begat Obed of Ruth."--S. MATT. i. 5.

[S. Margaret's; 15th Sunday after Trinity, being also the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1861]

I HAVE spoken to you twice, if not three times, of Ruth: and therefore we may seem to have exhausted her principal types. But,--gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost; and so this evening let us throw together what remains, and learn the meaning of the Holy Ghost in them. The more fitly that of the Blessed Sacrament, I shall speak in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; of the earthly and historical, before the truer and celestial, Boaz; and of Ruth, to you, my Sisters, who will every day, I trust, be better and better antitypes of her who, a Moabitess by birth, came into the line of the ancestors of our LORD.

He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. So said a daughter of Ruth, a thousand and three hundred years after her time: so said Naomi just before, I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty. So then, Ruth, an alien in a strange land, poor, despised, forsaken, though not forsaking: so then she comes before us.

Look into your own hearts, my Sisters, and then look around you. Are they not poor of all grace, needing strength, needing wisdom, wanting in themselves everything that can enable you to run with patience the race that is set before you? to win the crown which the LORD hath prepared for them that love Him; to learn in the highest sense, what Ruth's name is by interpretation, satisfied; as it is written, When I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it. What remedy, then, for this? What, but that which was tried so happily in the fields of Bethlehem, the House of Bread, three thousand years and more ago?

She went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and her hap was to light upon a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. Now notice,--for these types require close attention. Boaz, you observe, was already Ruth's kinsman; yet not her kinsman by blood,--it was by marriage. Ruth, the widow of Mahlon, was the daughter-in-law of Elimelech, and to him Boaz was kinsman.

Now, of every faithful Ruth that comes for grace to the True Boaz, is not that true also? for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren. I have shown you before now, how beautifully this is taught in the Canticles: I am come into My garden, My sister, My spouse; sister first, because that dear LORD, in that personal union of the manhood with the Godhead, made our flesh the sister of His Divinity.

And so the Church in the same book, only there speaking as before the Incarnation, prays that it might be: O that Thou wert as my Brother. But He is our Brother now by the right of Incarnation. Not naturally, nor yet from the beginning of time; but when that message came to the Blessed of Women, of which you were singing at Vespers, then indeed He joined that nature to His own, which He will never lay down again. And now you see not only why Boaz was the kinsman of Ruth, but also her kinsman, not by birth, but by marriage.

And now, who was Boaz? It is a short description of him; but it suffices. A mighty man of wealth. Put these two together. Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. Think how He dwelt among the poor, chose His friends among the poor, tabernacled in poor cottages, depended on poor fishermen, had nothing, or scarcely anything to do with the rich, save in His death. And then try to realise the boundless wealth laid up in Him. The stores of grace renewed every morning, like the universal dew. The love which every one of His servants needs every moment; the joy which can yet gladden the myriads of His afflicted servants; the peace which keeps so many hearts at rest in a world of war. A mighty man of wealth indeed! Think, too, of all that He vouchsafes to accept from His Church, which, being His own, does but return to Him again, as it is written, Into the place whence the rivers came, thither they return again. Think of the treasures of self-denial daily offered to Him Who pleased not Himself: think of the wonders, to go to lower ground, of art, laid at His feet, Who praised the poor widow that cast the two mites into the treasury! And then lastly, think of the countless multitudes of ransomed souls who in that day will be His true riches, each worth innumerable worlds, each the pearl, for joy whereof that Merchant-man went and sold all that He had, and bought the field of this earth, and won the ground to Himself.

Now then, Ruth is gleaning in the field. Now this may be taken very prettily as your Sister drew it in her little book, of the different graces derived from Him of Whose fulness have we all received. ["Text Emblems."] But there is a higher meaning, and one which more admirably suits the context yet (you know, my Sisters, that I do not teach you these things out of my own head; this lesson was, I believe, first given to the Church by S. Peter Chrysologus, in the fifth century).

Boaz says to Ruth, Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them; have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? So observe; the ears that were reaped, and so finally gathered into the garner, and the ears that Ruth gleaned were all of one. What does this mean? Why, it contains a wonderful mystery. Look back to that first Eucharist. Our LORD then took of His own Flesh, the glorious and self-sufficient Corn of the world, and gave to the twelve. But the Body of which He gave, that was to fall as a field of wheat before the cruel sickle. That which hung on the Cross, that which lay in the grave, was one with that which they had eaten: the gleaned Corn and the reaped Corn were all one.

You, my Sisters, gleaned in Boaz's field to-day; and, though it is eighteen hundred years ago since the ploughers ploughed upon His back, and made long furrows, since those wicked reapers cut off the living Wheat,--you this morning received that same Body which then hung on the Cross of shame; which then rose from the tomb of rest; which then ascended into the Heaven of glory.

Could anything be lovelier than this: the corn so reaped, and the corn so gleaned, both one: the Flesh so glorified as to sit on the Throne, the Flesh so humbled as to take on itself the appearance of Bread, to be both the same? Yes, one thing is yet more beautiful. Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? Yes, lay the force on that word thee. Me indeed (it is as if He said) they touched; on Me they laid hands; Me they bound; Me, in that doleful night, they dragged to Caiaphas and Annas, to Herod and Pilate; Me they clothed with a purple robe and mocked with a crown of thorns; Me they raised on the Cross, and they pierced My side with the spear. But it shall not be so, O my elect one, with thee. Have I not prayed long ago (and shall I pray and not be heard?): Deliver my Darling from the power of the dog? Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?

Touch thee, indeed, in one sense they may, as they touched My Martyrs, them that walk with Me in white, for they are worthy; as they touched my Confessors, whose light affliction, which was but for a moment, worked for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; as they touched My Virgins, who sing the new song before Me now; as they touched (for I know My own lambs by name) when I lead them out), as they touched My Thekla when they cast her into the den of lions; as they touched My Lucy, when she suffered those till then unheard-of tortures; as they touched My Faith, when they stretched her over the burning fiery furnace; as they touched My Christina, when she gave up her body to their scourges; as they touched My Agnes, when they dragged her into the house of infamy. But, not touch thee so as to rend thee from Me; not touch thee so as to lesson thy right in Me; not touch thee, except that, the ruder the laying on of their hands, the more cruel their insults, the dearer, the more precious My Elect, the whiter My Dove, the more glorious in Mine Eyes now, as some day in the eyes of men and angels, My Bride. Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?

And there, my Sisters, must be your comfort; you know that you carry about with you no charm against temporal danger and earthly death. But the higher and holier charm, that neither danger nor death can hurt you, that you do carry about; for if you did not, of all miserable creatures you would be the most miserable. These things are your LORD'S servants. The word My in the text shows as much. And to this end He gave them leave to touch Himself, when they said, Come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours. To this end He tasted of death, that they might never have power to touch you; that you might never be able to taste of death for yourselves.

Now let us follow Ruth to her then home. She gleaned in the fields till evening, and beat out that she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. Now almost all those who have written on this story, are agreed that here was a miraculous multiplication of the corn. Making every allowance for the greater, the far greater fruitfulness of the land that flowed with milk and honey, when compared with ours, it seems certain that, in order naturally to have produced an ephah, there must have been half a cartload at least of straw.

Therefore He Who afterwards multiplied the oil and the meal, He Who before had miraculously equalised the gleanings of the manna gatherers, so that when they came to mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack, He here caused each ear to pour forth triple or quadruple its ordinary grain. Doubtless, in part, to reward his servant's faith; but can we doubt that there is also a far more glorious meaning hidden in the wonder?

Does it not tell you of the multiplication of graces which the Corn of the Mighty shall bring forth in you? What! that, to the eye, humble wafer perform such miracles of love and courage and fortitude as we know it does? nerve women, nerve girls, to endure frightful deaths and horrible tortures, and more horrible shame,--ay, and after all, it may be the harder, keep them firm in a life-long self-denial, and in the resolute renunciation of the earthly things which by nature are dearest to a woman? It is so indeed, and you know what the hymn you so often say teaches us;--

"Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit."

That is what the ephah teaches you; and see that you remember it in your deeds. It is no stinted gleaning of that Sacramental Wheat which your LORD gives you here; but what, if the produce in grace, instead of being miraculously great, were beyond all comparison little? That you are all unhappy if you are deprived of that Body and Blood, I know very well, and rejoice to know it; but that is not all. "Here we offer unto Thee" not only Thyself under the form of Bread and Wine: when, as S. Thomas so beautifully says in his great Sequence--

"In the new King's new libation,
In the new law's new oblation.
Ends the ancient Paschal rite.
Ancient forms new substance chaseth,
Types and shadows truth displaceth,
Day dispels the gloom of night."

We offer that most assuredly, but is that all? "Here we offer and present unto Thee, O LORD, ourselves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto Thee!" GOD find it and receive it in each of you!

And now one thing more, not indeed of yourselves, but of your LORD. Ruth shall now cease to be the type of each virgin soul; and be hers alone, whose Nativity we celebrate to-day, the Virgin of Virgins, the Mother of GOD. Think of that night scene on the threshing-floor. There, as from a husband, and yet in unspotted purity, Ruth asks the staff of life, and Boaz metes into her veil six measures of barley. Then think of that day in Nazareth; Mary, Virgin before, and in, and after childbirth, receives the true Bread of Life, the Bread that cometh down from Heaven, receives and contains It in the veil of her body. Ruth asks it not for herself, but for Naomi; Mary receives It, not for herself, but for the world.

Ruth's fair fame would stand ill with scandalous tongues if the thing were publicly told: Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor. Mary must suffer in the way: Then Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. And indeed we are apt to forget the courage as well as the faith of that reply, Behold the handmaid of the LORD: be it unto me according to thy word: when she knew that, unless GOD in some marvellous way interposed on her behalf, the birth of the Divine Child must have been followed by the stoning of the Virgin Mother.

And now, in a few short words, the end. Then went Boaz up to the gate. So our truer Boaz; but not to sit down there. Through the gate He passed, up the Hill beyond, even as far as the summit of Calvary, and there, and there only He found repose. This shall be My Rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein. There it was that, after all His weary course of years, He won to Himself each faithful Ruth; there, that He wrote the long letter of love, of which we heard this morning; there, that He engraved you, each of you, on the palms of His Hands; there, that He opened that cave in the Eternal Rock for every trembling dove. Bought, my Sisters, at such a price, loved at such a cost, won with such a battle, how much, how much more daily, will you strive to show yourselves His?

And now, etc.

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