1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favour with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life – this is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he – the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”
Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.
9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”
The king said, “Impale him on it!”
20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
ESTHER 7:1-6, 9; 9:20-22
Queen Esther is a shadowy figure of the Old Testament. A Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, she lived in Persia. Originally called Hadassah, which in Hebrew means ‘myrtle’, she is known by her Persian name, Esther, which means ‘star’. Mordecai is her guardian cousin, who also has a semi-secret role as leader of the Jewish community in exile in the Persian city of Susa. Esther is King Xerxes second wife.
She tips him off about an assassination plot, and in this passage she informs him of a plot by one of his senior officials, Haman, to massacre Mordecai and the Jewish exiles. Xerxes hoists Haman and his sons on his own 80 foot high gallows. The grateful Mordecai declares a festival – a period of feasting and generosity, celebrated yearly in early March. That festival still exists today and is known as Purim.
We are designed to want to give thanks, we are built to socialise, and, of course, we need to eat. There is something fundamentally spiritual in celebrating, because it gives an opportunity to rejoice in the gifts of God.
On Purim day, a festive meal is enjoyed, with plenty of wine. Some say that on Purim everything is allowed, although most Jewish leaders insist on decorum even in the midst of the merrymaking. Purim celebrates emotional reverse, from fasting to feasting, sadness to joy, terror to relief. Not only are food and wine consumed with gusto but gifts are exchanged and charitable donations made, a bit like Christmas.
Purim celebrates the way God’s people were rescued by the careful intervention of a saviour figure. This reminds us of the saving work of Christ, operating on a much bigger, eternal scale. In Esther it is the Jews who are in danger. In reality, now, it is everyone who is in danger of the consequences of sin.
Yet salvation from sin comes in and through Christ, who brings about rescue from the punishment for sin, which is death. And, in celebration of this saving work, Jesus, rather like Mordecai, gives us a feast to remember him by. For us too, sorrow turns to gladness and mourning to joy as we are liberated from the chains of sin. While the Jewish tradition has Purim, we have the Lord’s Supper.
Lord, when we celebrate your saving grace revealed in Christ, turn our sorrow into gladness and our darkness into light. Amen