By Michael Smith
A Reading from Genesis 23:1-20
1 Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years; this was the length of Sarah’s life. 2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron son of Zohar, 9 so that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as a possession for a burying place.” 10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it; in the presence of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 He said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “If you only will listen to me! I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, so that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.
In today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, the patriarch Abraham buys land and a cave in which to bury his wife, the matriarch Sarah. The newly purchased field with a cave and trees would become holy land for Abraham and his descendants.
When I was a boy, we hauled water to newly planted trees at what we considered our “family cemetery.” It was actually the burial place of our small church located out in the country away from town, but since so many of our ancestors and relatives were buried there, we considered it “ours.” In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day every year, we would load up our gardening equipment and head out to “our” cemetery to spruce up the graves of our relatives. It was and still is “holy land” for my mother’s side of the family and where her physical remains rest, waiting for the day of Resurrection.
Life is different for many today in that we are more transient and make our dwellings in several different places around the country and even the world. Where will you be buried? Where is the “holy land” for your family?
If we could be there with Abraham, perhaps we could pray like this:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life though our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our sister Sarah, and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her, the Lord lift up his countenance upon her and give her peace. Amen (BCP 501)
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kanyakumari – The (united) Church of South India
St. Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto, Ont.