Several years ago, my husband Jerry and I attended Purim at the synagogue of our friend Rabbi Jeffery. Purim celebrates and commemorates the story of Esther and this particular synagogue service we attended was truly a hoot.
I normally don’t describe worship services as a “hoot;” but that was before I participated in Purim.
The children dressed in costumes: most of the girls as Esther; many of the boys as the king or as Mordecai. Even some of the adults got into the fun; one couple we saw came as Groucho and Harpo!
The Scripture was cantored, that is, sung in a disciplined singsong as is typical in every Jewish worship service. All the reading, of course, was done in its original language, Hebrew. But even those of us who could not understand the Hebrew, even we recognized when the name of the hated Haman was pronounced. And whenever his name was mentioned, we booed and hissed and rattled our noisemakers trying to drown out the sound of his name.
Afterwards, when we gathered for refreshments in the community room, the favorite cookie to gobble up was called “Haman’s Ear.”
That’s why I say it was a hoot.
Jewish worshipers really get into Purim. They “get into it” by thoroughly enjoying themselves and having fun with the story. But they also get into it by making it personal.
During Passover, at every Seder meal Jewish worshipers affirm: “God delivered US from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” So at Purim and other times as they remember their history, they confess: “WE have been saved from disaster.”
In 2014, around the season of Purim, yet another hater of the Jews sought to wreak havoc and destroy. At the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park Kansas, an angry, pathetic, shriveled up soul killed three people, but in a strange and tragic twist, none of the victims were Jewish.
Mindy Corporon got there just after the shooting and she found her own father and her teenaged son dying. Even so, at the community prayer vigil that evening, Mindy spoke and celebrated their life and love even as she grieved.
“We were all having life,” she said as she described the activities of the day before the shooting. “And I want you to know, we will all keep having life.
I encourage you to have more life also.”
Having life. This is personal. We are all in this together.
Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention the name of God. Even so, the story is powerful testimony to ways the Hidden God keeps promises and continues to work on behalf of the Divine covenant.
It is also about how God’s people participate in covenant.
We’ve explored the notion of “covenant” recently: The covenant is the gracious act of God, (Dr. Gene Boring says); it is often associated with deliverance, validation of life and security, total well-being and peace, shalom; it is a saving act.
Some years ago, the Christian Century journal published an article that reflected on some of the ways the book of Esther fits into the larger story of God’s covenant:
“The unity of Scripture lies in the central theme of covenant that runs through every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Sub-themes of the covenant — experiences of pilgrimage and promise, bondage and freedom, duty and blessing, famine and plenty, barrenness and fertility — weave their way through both testaments.”
The Book of Esther, with its tale of suffering, crisis and eventual triumph, testifies that we are not trapped helplessly in a destructive global fate … With bold faith, Esther took events into their own hands to secure the future of the covenant. Her story shines as an example of the human side of covenant responsibility … Esther, read through the prism of Christ, points us beyond fatalism toward the hope of the earth.Hambrick-Stowe
It is bold faith indeed that Queen Esther demonstrates.
“If I perish, I perish…” she said.
Esther gave herself over to the salvation and redemption of her people, risking her own life in the process. This is the human side of covenant responsibility. This is a deep lived wisdom.
Many scholars place the Book of Esther in the category of Wisdom literature. Not like the Proverbs or Ecclesiastes that recite proverbial wise sayings, this is story – a story that embodies the lived wisdom of Jewish understanding.
The book of Esther is a story of high drama, filled with ironic turns of fortune and karmic twists of fate.
Esther and Mordecai acknowledge that she has been put right here in this place “for such a time as this.” Her destiny drives her forward because whatever happens to her personally, it is the covenant that matters.
She is committed to participate in the way of God in the world because she knows it is the future of God’s people that matters. This is this wisdom that is the “hope of the earth.”
In our New Testament, the Gospel stories continue the sub-themes of the covenant – pilgrimage and promise, bondage and freedom, duty and blessing, famine and plenty, barrenness and fertility – all these experiences of living turn our attention to God’s faithfulness and the great need for wise living.
I’m amazed when I read the stories about Jesus’ own keen wisdom for living. He always seemed to have just the right balance in everything: self-sufficient while at the same time completely selfless and self-sacrificing; always in control and yet ever in the service of others; proactive and assertive while still being totally responsive to God’s leading.
For example, Matthew’s gospel shows us the dilemmas that constantly challenged Jesus: adversaries on every side, companions who were often quite clueless, the fickle crowd.
And yet the gospels – also functioning as a kind of Wisdom literature – show us how Jesus embodied wisdom as he participated in the covenant.
Our Living in The Story Scriptures bring 1 and 2 Corinthians into the mix during the season of Lent and then Easter.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, we hear Paul speak of this same wisdom demonstrated by Esther and by Jesus: wisdom that motivates self-sacrifice on behalf on another; wisdom that looks like foolishness and maybe even recklessness to the world.
The foolish wisdom of the cross.
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… GOD is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…)1 Corinthians 1:26-31
During Holy Week, Christians follow the way of Jesus from the highs of “hosannas” through the horror of the cross. We see Jesus’ faithfulness and the way his own destiny drove him forward. Because whatever happened to him personally, it was the covenant – the promise – that mattered.
“If I perish, I perish” is the lived wisdom of Jesus as well as of Esther.
This is not fatalism but rather deep cosmic wisdom. The upside down wisdom of God that gives unceasingly, that loves unconditionally, that saves unendingly. The God who is “the source of our life – in Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ has embodied the covenant, has become the gospel, and has enacted the salvation that is the gracious act of God – validating life and accomplishing shalom.
When we follow in the way and wisdom of Esther, we find out what happens on the other side of threat only by walking right into the danger with bold faith.
When we follow in the way and wisdom of Jesus, we find out what happens on the other side of death only by dying to ourselves and giving ourselves over to God’s promise of resurrection.
Dying to ourselves – as was the way of Esther – is the deep lived wisdom that allows us to participate in the covenant and to live in Christ, the hope of the earth and the life of the world.
Living in The Story readings for Week 12
Mindy Corporon on YouTube
Eugene Boring, An Introduction to the New Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012).
“Ruth and the New Abraham, Esther the New Moses” by Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe,Christian Century, December 7, 1983. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation.