Tomb of Esther and Mordecai, Hamadan, Iran
Esther 9: 20-32
20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor. 23 So the Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun to do, as Mordecai had written to them.
24 Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur– that is “the lot”– to crush and destroy them; 25 but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. 26 Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, 27 the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
29 Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. 30 Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, 31 and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. 32 The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.
Paschasius Radbertus (785-865), a medieval Catholic theologian gave voice to an ancient principle of how doctrine is sometimes formed by the practices of prayer and worship when he said, “the rule of prayer should lay down the rule of faith.” (Pelikan 1978, 159) Our practice informs what we believe, and within the practices of Purim, and the feasting and celebrating combined with the reading of Esther. Purim has some of the feasting and hilarity of Mardi Gras and people often dress up as Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus, etc. and this practice shapes the way the Jewish people approach the story in a way that Christians do not have. Esther is a beloved story as a part of this celebration, and so it is not surprising that we have in the closure two different commands, one from Mordecai and one from Esther that establish the festival. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? You can debate back and forth does the edict establish the festival or does the edict give justification for a practice that was already ongoing.
At one point in my life, I took myself and the world way too seriously, and the life of faith is often looked upon as one of austerity, seriousness and moderation-but that has little to do with the Bible or Jesus. The world of the bible is a world of festivals and feasts, of celebrations and parties, of people enjoying participating and being a part of the story. My personal opinion is we celebrate too little. Mardi Gras for example evolved as an act of rebellion against being continually told by priests (Mardi Gras evolved in predominantly Catholic areas) of all the things they were to give up and to avoid having fun. And yet both of the primary festivals of the Christian church (Christmas and Easter) have evolved to where there is an element of feasting and celebration-but this is done with family and not with any connection to the story of the day. One of the challenges for the church as it enters the twenty first century perhaps we need to learn to celebrate and feast, to begin to live out of abundance rather than scarcity. Now one critical difference is the Christian church, at least in the United States, tells its story from a place of relative privilege, we are not (predominantly) a marginalized group. Many of our members occupy places of authority throughout the society, unlike the experience of the Jewish people throughout much of their history. Nonetheless, especially in a postmodern world which places a high value on story, we would do well to consider how our practices could be informing our faith and how we too can use these feasts throughout the year to do just that: to feast and to celebrate.