So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.”
Lectionary Text for Sunday, September 30th
I am too sad and tired to read Esther today.
When the lectionary, in its strange supernatural wisdom, gives us Esther as our text for Sunday, I don’t want to read it.
Esther’s story feels too hopeful.
“If I perish, I perish,” Esther says, going bravely before the king and all his drunk, laughing advisors. In the Bible story, Esther wins. The bad guy loses. Esther thwarts the plans of power-seeking wicked men. Her courage changes the world.
Watching Dr. Ford testify on Thursdays in a coffee shop, I felt so proud of Dr. Ford, so empowered and so fierce.
But today, I’m crying in another coffee shop, because today I don’t think that Dr. Ford’s courage will matter. I don’t think it will change the world. Hopelessness is heavy on me today, and it is telling me that courage doesn’t matter, and the world will never change. I want to preach Esther’s story of courage, but I don’t know how.
I can preach Vashti’s story, though.
“On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him… to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come.” [Es 1:10-12]
The story of Esther doesn’t start with Esther. It starts with another woman who stood up to the king. Vashti, in a foreshadowing of Esther’s bravery, wouldn’t come out to a party to sexually entertain her husband and his laughing, drunk friends. While Esther’s courage saved an entire nation, though, tradition tells us that Vashti was executed. Esther’s courageous no leads to salvation, but Vashti’s courageous no got her killed.
So many women are exhausted and sad today, because we don’t think that we’re in the middle of Esther’s story. We think we’re in Vashti’s. This old story – drunk parties and women who are brave and then discarded despite their bravery – is too on the nose.
Sister Vashti, you are my patron saint on this grey Saturday, while I try to have hope but worry that my hope is foolish, to be brave but worry that my bravery won’t matter.
Sister Vashti, how do I live in a world as brutal as yours and be as brave as you were.
Esther and Vashti lived in a world where sometimes courage is rewarded with justice, and sometimes courage feels like it doesn’t matter.
“If I perish, I perish,” Esther says, and those words are a celebration because the readers know the end of the story. Esther’s story, though, didn’t always contain the beginning and the middle and the end. Today we know how it ends, but in that in between moment, Esther didn’t. There was a moment of unknowing in between when she says “if I perish, I perish,” and when the king speaks.
We are living in a world that is in between the bravery of Esther and the verdict of the king.
I don’t just mean Dr. Ford and the Senate, although the in between feeling is visceral this week. I don’t just mean in our country, although many of us are struggling with whether this arc bends towards justice or not.
Our whole world is hanging in between.
Creation groans, Paul says, creation groans while we wait for the restoration of the world. Creation groans while we live in between the courage of women and the new heaven and the new earth. Creation groans while we sing Mary’s Magnificat, a song that we can only ever sing out of courage and out of hope. “He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart,” Mary sings, “he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”
Well, He hasn’t yet.
We hope that He will, one day.
And some days, we get a tiny taste of the justice of the future – every so often, miracles happen, and we find ourselves celebrating the overturning of the kingdoms of this earth with Esther, in the moment when the king decides to look on her with favor and to deliver her people. Some days, we fight until our hands are raw and our knees buckle and right when we’re about to give up, we see the world shift. Some days, we look around at the valley of dry bones and can only shake our head and say you know, Lord, if these bones can live, and then in the miracle of the Spirit we watch systems and people and countries begin to breathe in and out justice in ways that we didn’t think were possible.
And other days? The story is Vashti’s story.
And creation groans.
Creation groans precisely because of how hard it is to hold Vashti’s story and Esther’s story at the same time. Creation groans because she has hope, not despite it. Creation groans because she knows that this is not how it is supposed to be. Creation groans because she is longing for the world to be set right, and it isn’t yet.
It is only right in glimpses. It is only right in moments.
We are living in between, living with hope even though we’ve seen both Vashti and Esther and we know that miracles can happen but often don’t. We know that those dry bones can live, but often stay dead.
We hope, but we groan with creation.
We groan because we hope.
May those of us who have breath in our lungs sing Mary’s song with her, and may those of us who have fire in our bones say Vashti’s no with her, and may those of us who are weary and afraid take courage to survive, because restoration is coming and the world may not turn today, or tomorrow, but in the small moments of turning we are reminded that one day, all will be made new.
To all of us feeling in our bones the trauma of a world that is hanging in between the courage of women and the verdict of the king, may you feel the groaning hope of creation as a promise today.
Lord, make these dry bones live.