Esther is often portrayed as a love story. So let’s begin by making some observations. King Xerxes eliminated Queen Vashti when she refused to parade herself in front of an extended men-only drinking bout. Having got rid of her, Xerxes needed a new queen. His advisors suggested he seize all the beautiful young virgins, give each one a night to prove herself, and choose from among them. So Esther did not line up at the palace flapping an application form for a beauty pageant; nor did the king pick her for her personality. Instead, she was a vulnerable young woman who was noticed for her beauty and abducted by the king’s brute squad, and whose only hope for survival lay in pleasing the king’s eunuch – for then he “provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food“ (2:9). A year of beauty treatment and education prepared her for the next step in her survival: sexually captivating the king. In other words, Esther has less agency than a bunny in the Playboy Mansion and yet, even in such terrifying, humiliating and unpromising circumstances, her courage, obedience and wisdom saves the Jewish people from annihilation.
On Sunday, we reflected on this story using an interactive reading, which looked like this.
Men and teenage boys at a dining table, draped in sumptuous purple cloth, littered with evidence of a drinking bout (empty wine bottles lying on their sides, “goblets of different kinds”). “Mordecai” sitting on a chair in an archway to the front and side of the table. Women, girls and children on the other side of the archway, craning to see in.
Song – Immortal, Invisible
Reading, sprinkled with Questions
Note: Every time Haman speaks, the “audience” hisses and boos.
Overarching Question: Where is God in this story?
- Read: Esther 1:1-2:4.
- Reflect: What is a king? (To go deeper, compare and contrast with 1 Samuel 8; Revelation 7:15-17)
- Read: Esther 2:5-2:18
- Move: All teenage girls into the space where the men are. Esther to sit among the men, between the king and Mordecai.
- Reflect: What is a wife? (To go deeper, compare and contrast with Proverbs 31)
- Read: Esther 2:19-3:15
- Reflect: What is a patriot? (Haman vs Mordecai; the right race? obedience to every law, or most laws? personal fealty to the king?)
- Read: Esther 4:1-5:14
- Reflect: What is your request? (How did Esther prepare? Who was involved? How do we prepare? Who do we involve? For what would we risk our lives?)
- Read: Esther 6:1-10:3 (end)
- Reflect: What is justice? (justice vs vengeance; cultural gap?; what is Christlike? what is not?)
- Reflect: Who do we identify with? (Do we see ourselves as Esther/the Jews, living in a violent capitalist society and called to protest? Or, as beneficiaries of genocide and colonialism who live on stolen land, should we hear the warnings in the text against Empire, and the hatred of the oppressed for the oppressors? What is offensive or challenging about this story? What current situations does it remind us of?)
A time of silent reflection on the following questions. Members of the congregation are invited to pray by lighting a candle as a sign of recommitment to God’s call on their life.
- What are your particular gifts, training, experience, history, and limitations? What is your context?
- What particular challenge in our world calls to you?
- Might God have prepared you for such a time as this?
Sing – Community of Christ (Words: Shirley Erena Murray (c) 1992 Hope Publishing Company; Music: Leoni (Jewish Synagogue Melody))
Blessing – Go now, listening for the voice of Mordecai: “Perhaps God has placed you here for such a time as this.” And when that voice comes, like Esther be prepared: prepared to listen, prepared to pray, prepared to plan, prepared to trust God, and prepared to act. And may God find you willing to do what is needed; may Christ Jesus show you the way; and, though danger press all around, may the Holy Spirit fill you with courage, and wisdom, and grace, and hope, as you participate in God’s work of salvation. Amen. Ω
Final Notes – Obviously, not every question here can be addressed in one service. They are prompts only, to be picked up as appropriate in the interplay of the telling and the congregational reflection.
Prepared for Sanctuary, 30 September 2018 (Year B Proper 21, BP21) © Alison Sampson, 2018. May be used freely in worship and similar non-commercial environs, appropriately attributed. Image credit: Edwin Long Queen Esther (1878). Public Domain, found here.