Esther is an unusual book. God doesn’t mention once in any of the 10 chapters. The Jewish festival of Purim celebrates this story and retells it in levity and song and costume. They “boo” every time Haman’s name is spoken and celebrate his ultimate demise. Think Rocky Horror Picture Show but about Esther.
Each of our characters are caricatures. They are over-the-top versions of Maybe a reality that didn’t even exist. The king is so wrapped up and wants to only have the good vibes only around him, for life to be a celebration, so much so that he doesn’t even let people approach unless he knows what they’re gonna say to him. It seems he signs ethics without even knowing what they are just trusting that everything will be OK. Haman is pure villain, seeking only power and finding a way to get to the heart of it without actually having the title of king. Mordecai is only good, having saved the king and doing what he could to save the people by raising a niece when she was orphaned. And Esther up until the very end of our story is what some feminist film critics might refer to as a sexy lamp. Did she have any autonomy? No. Did she make any of her own decisions? No. If you replaced her with a sexy lamp would it have changed the story at all? No.
In living in the palace, Esther seemed to live in the bubble of the king’s good vibes only; cut off from the lives of her people and the going on of what was happening in the city. I don’t know if she was comfortable in her place and in her position or maybe she lived all of her time in fear. Like trans people who fear they don’t pass enough as their gender that someone will call them out and abuse them. Or stories of people of color who took up jobs and positions in a world that weren’t allowed to them but they could because their skin was lighter and they passed. And they all live in fear of that moment when someone is going to find out who their people really are. I wonder if Esther lived in fear that someone would find out who people really were. I wonder if what we find in the beginning is the distinction between somebody making decisions to survive and one who makes decisions to thrive. Esther is just surviving in these parts.
So what changed Esther’s mind? Was it the part you’re gonna die either way? That feels a little like bullying and might not really be convincing. Was it when Mordecai said that help would come from someplace if it didn’t come from her? Certainly, that is not that’s all the more reason she could turn a blind eye, she could pretend that it’s nothing to do with her. No, it’s what if everything in your life has prepared you for this moment in this place for this step.
I wonder if Esther thought back to her life and told her story a little differently. She wasn’t some poor orphan girl who got pushed off on an Uncle, she was a survivor. Maybe living with Mordecai had made her smart and cunning and patient. Maybe she had to be hostess when he had people over which sounds like a problem but prepared her to invite the king and Haman to her home to entertain them which convinced the king to give her anything she asked for, so she could save her people. I wonder if instead of telling a story about how she was forced into this position as Queen she tells the story that she’s the only one now in a position to make a difference.
The stories we tell about our past define how we move in the future. The time between graduating from seminary and when I was officially ordained was 10 years. And there came a point somewhere in the middle when I had this seminary degree that I wasn’t using and it felt like a waste Of time and energy and money. And I am a friend who said there is nothing that is wasted.
Nothing is wasted. Would I have liked the process of getting there to have been easier? Smoother? Of course!
Nothing is wasted. Not that retail job you worked one Holiday season that both drove you crazy and alternately I gave you compassion for people. Not that music you took when you were younger even if you didn’t carry it on with it it’s given you a Passion When you sing. Not the books you read that open worlds to you that you could never have imagined. Not the relationship you thought will last forever and still broke your heart.
This isn’t to say you were given your traumas to prepare you for something else. You’re not getting pain because it was a means to an end. But perhaps it gave you insight or experience or compassion. Perhaps it’s given you a way to connect with people That you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Perhaps you will give you compassion and empathy for those in need, those who are struggling, for those who think that thing that happened in their past has made them broken beyond repair and you can say I have been there too. Perhaps your past has prepared you to care deeply about our world in need.
Nichole Nordeman sings of our lives as maps, roads, and journeys. What brought you tears in this place? What made here important? Are there regrets? Are there things you’d do differently? Every road brought you here, every mile matter. Here matters. One of the Jewish names for God is “Place”: like: help will come from some “Place.” Or maybe: you are in this “Place” for a reason.
Maybe you are a Mordecai who stands in the city center and proclaims the trouble to prepare the way. Or maybe you’re Mordecai who is a mentor to somebody in a position of power and privilege. Maybe you are Esther placed In a position to speak Justice and to make it happen.
It should be fair most of us aren’t in that most of us, most of the time are not going to be Esther. And while we ought to claim the moments when they arrive, It doesn’t mean we stand in the background waiting hoping that someone else shows up to say the words that are supposed to be said.
When Esther made her first move, her first intentional decision we see in this story, she asked Mordecai together with the Jews, together with her community, asks that they all fast for her for 3 days. I want to know more about that. For 3 days this community gathered in prayer and support. For 3 days this community did not eat or drink. their whole focus was on Esther, on what Esther had to do, on keeping her safe, on reminding her of who she was, and what brought her to this Place.
As Christians, we speak of a cloud of witnesses sometimes as those who have gone before us and sometimes as those who are pivotal to our faith and are still around. I wonder if Esther felt the weight of their prayers and I wonder if that weight was encouraging and not a burden. The 1st thing she asked for was that her community rally around her in support.
Rebecca Solnit, wrote in her book, Hope in the Darkness, about the September 2003 World Trade Organization talks, of the power that is found in the largest and most influential countries, of how they wield that power against smaller nations, how it was assumed that those smaller, less developed nations, would surrender autonomy without anything in return, without addressing “the way agricultural subsidies in the developed world ravaged farming and the least developed ones.”
She wrote: “But thanks to the unanticipated solidarity between activists, non-governmental organizations, and impoverished nations, the WTO talks didn’t just falter; they collapsed spectacularly. An activist, Antonio Juhasz, emailed us, “a woman from Swaziland turned to a colleague of mine and told him that the African countries could not have stood firm against the WTO, the US and the EU if it had not been for those activists in and outside of the convention hall. She said that our actions in and outside, our words, our pressure particularly as they had reached the press–gave her and the fellow African nations the strength to take this historic stand.” Another activist says that it was the pressure of the farmer’s outside that persuaded the nation’s inside to stand up, to remember those whose lives were at stake, that they kept Korea for example where one out of 6 families is a farm family, from bargaining away more of its local agriculture.”
British Guardian commentator George Monbiot wrote, “at Cancun, the weak nations stood up to the most powerful negotiators on Earth and were not broken. The lesson they will bring home is that if this is possible, almost anything is.”
Nothing is wasted. Not standing up against the powerful, not writing a letter to your Congressperson, not standing in solidarity with the poor and the outcast, not fasting and praying, nuts wearing black on Thursdays, not writing a letter, not showing up. nothing is wasted. You are being called, you have been placed here for a moment such as this prepared. Your past isn’t a story of having just made it through it is a story of survival and of abundance and of thriving and it has made you who you are today and has prepared you for your calling, and in any moment you might be Esther a voice of change to the powerful, or Mordecai-crying out to rally the people, or mentoring the next generation, or one of the masses praying and fasting, protesting and being presence and support. You have been prepared for a time such as this, what are you gonna do with it?