Esther and Remembering

Naturally the great deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s wicked plot was the cause of much celebration and feasting (Esth 9:17-18). But Mordecai and Esther were determined that the story should not be forgotten, so they instituted an annual holiday to commemorate it – the festival of Purim (Esth 9:20-21).

Although Christians do not celebrate Purim, we do have our own annual celebrations of Christmas and Easter, where we remember different parts of the story of the great deliverance we have experienced through the incarnation, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. And we have the communion meal, specifically instituted by Jesus himself as a “remembrance” of him (Luke 22:19).

I want to briefly consider a few elements of the way the Jews observed Purim and how they relate to our own times of “remembering”.

First, Purim involved giving. In some ways, Purim is similar to our Christmas, as it was a winter holiday in which they they gave gifts to one another (Esth 9:22). Note however that giving to the poor was explicitly part of it. Sadly Christmas has become a holiday all about giving to those who will give presents back to us.

Second, they told the story. In Esth 9:24-25 we have what some have called a creedal statement, summing up the essence of the story of Esther. We tend to do this well at Christmas, with our nativity plays and carol services rehearsing much of the Biblical account. However, I am not sure we are always so good at this when it comes to communion and Easter. Often we skip past telling the story of the cross and resurrection in favour of teaching the theology of the cross and resurrection. Of course, theology is vitally important, but it is worth considering why each of the four gospel writers devote almost half their books to simply recounting the events of the final days of Jesus earthly life.

Third, it was a celebration. Sometimes our way of remembering can be overly sombre and introspective, such as when we observe a minute of silence held to commemorate the dead. And indeed the Jews did have times of fasting (Esth 9:31), but the overall feel of Purim was a one of joy since their mourning had been turned to joy (Esth 9:22). It is important that when we celebrate the Lord’s supper, it is a genuinely joyful occasion, even if there is an appropriate solemnity to it as we consider the gravity of what Christ endured on our behalf. Like the early church, we should eat with “glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).

Fourth, it was a community affair – everyone gathered together and celebrated as a community. Though we do have this emphasis on family at Christmas, often the way we do communion is very individualistic, simply due to the logistics of being sat in rows. Maybe we would do well to celebrate communion more often in our homes at meal-times, gathered with small groups of believers, in order that we may remember together.

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