I spent today at a drop-in for refugees, playing Duplo and Peppa Pig with the toddlers. Whilst the rest of the world debates their fate, we sang songs and smiled a lot. Their mums carried the weight of their journeys on their faces. Tea and cake helps to break the ice and encourage conversation. As I hold a baby, rocking her to sleep, I think what a miracle she is.
Sundown today the 23rd of March 2016 starts the Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim means “lots” – as in “they cast lots” only purim is a Hebrew word, not Greek. And Purim is from the story in the book of Esther, not the gospels of Jesus. Esther 3:7 says “the lot (pur) fell on the twelfth month”. That was when Haman (a leader in the Persian Empire) would kill the Jews. Purim is the plural of pur.
Haman’s lots were evil. A kind of rolling of dice to decide when to commit genocide. Bit like the fish bowl with names inside in the Hunger Games. The lots were cruel. But as the story goes, Esther and her cousin (and leader of the Jews) Mordecai changed everything.
As the story of the “hidden miracle” goes…
In a beauty contest, the Persian King chose Esther (a Jew) as his new Queen. Then Haman was promoted within the Persian Empire’s government to the top position, just below the King. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, and this upset Haman. So much so that he plotted to kill the Jews. So Mordecai speaks to his cousin Esther, urging her to speak to the King. She can’t just enter into the King’s presence uninvited. She tells Mordecai and all the Jews to fast and pray for three days while she asks G-d what to do.
On the third day, she dresses in her royal robes and dares to enter the presence of the King. The King notices her and invites her to speak. She doesn’t plead then and there for her people. Instead, she invites the King and Haman to a banquet, a party at her place.
But the night before the party, Haman decides to kill Mordecai first thing the next day. However, that same night, the King just happens to read his journal that states that Mordecai once defended the King, preventing his murder. The end result is instead of being killed, Haman is forced to honour Mordecai – to parade him wearing a robe and riding a horse into the capital city!
At Esther’s banquet, Esther pleads for her people to be spared from genocide. She reveals that Haman is plotting to kill her people. Haman tries to plead for his life, ends up falling on Esther in such a way that the King thinks he is trying it on with his Queen. The King orders Haman to be executed in the very manner in which Haman had planned to kill Mordecai.
The King gave Esther the lands belonging to Haman. The King placed his signet ring on Mordecai’s hand. At this point, Esther again pleads for the planned genocide to stop. The King stopped the planned genocide and also gave the Jews the right to arm and defend themselves. The Jews celebrated!
But then the day chosen by Haman’s purim came, the day when the genocide would have happened. On this day, the Jews, now armed, fought those who had planned on killing them. They destroyed all their enemies, with the King’s blessing.
Mordecai and Esther told all the Jews to celebrate this victory every year. Thus – the holiday Purim.
People celebrate it in different ways, I am sure. But traditionally, on the eve, the book of Esther is read. When the name Haman is mentioned, the people make loud noises. Some people dress up in bright costumes. On Purim day, Esther is read again. Money must be given to two poor people. A gift of two types of food must be sent via a messenger to someone. Then they party!
A good video on Purim is the Maccabeats’ song “Purim” found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgJInVvJSZg
“So raise your glass if you see G-d, in hidden places. He’s right in front of you!” (Maccabeats)
Power of Stories
G-d commands the telling of stories. Passover (Exodus story) is another holiday when a story must be told. Christians can learn a lot from the Jews about how and why stories are told. I think sometimes we Christians tell stories because they are in our lectionary or fit with the holiday. But to see the stories as the reason for the holiday in the first place, as reinforcements of who G-d is and how G-d relates to us as redeemer (Passover) and protector (Purim) – that way of hearing and retelling a story is quite powerful.
This week, we Christians are retelling the stories of Jesus’ final week, leading up to his crucifixion and then resurrection. This is a story we retell in part every time we share Communion. And as I am thinking about how to retell the events of Jesus’ last Passover meal before His crucifixion, I am torn between the solemnity of the occasion for Christians, the retelling of liberation for the Jews, and the celebratory defeat of death that is Purim. Part of me wants to celebrate and dance because I know the end of the story. I know Jesus is alive, reigning. That G-d’s kingdom is advancing (Purim / Easter). Part of me remembers with thanks my liberation and seeks the liberation of others (Passover / Good Friday). And part of me needs to ensure that the story of Jesus’ last meal with his mates, where He washes their feet and tells them to love each other because that’s how people will know they were his followers, how he takes the bread and breaks it then shares the wine declaring a new covenant. The water, the bread, the wine, the command – these things are important.
I’ve learned a lot from seeing how the Jews retell the stories of G-d. I’m thankful for their faithfulness and joy! I too celebrate finding G-d at work in hidden places.
Where is G-d at work today? Purim reminds me to keep seeking, expecting G-d’s unexpected. As I work in the community and in the church, I am reminded not to “write anyone off”. My hand isn’t to dip into a fish bowl and draw out the names of those to be excluded from what G-d is doing. I celebrate G-d’s stories, the retelling of the things He has done in anticipation of what He will do, through whoever G-d chooses.
Blessings to you this Purim.