When Esther Is Too Hopeful: Dr. Ford and the Weariness of Ordinary Time

When Esther Is Too Hopeful: Dr. Ford and the Weariness of Ordinary Time September 29, 2018
GETTY IMAGES + WIN MCNAMEE

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.”
Esther 7:1-2
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.

Vashti’s Story

“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.

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  • Markus R

    The Book of Esther is one of my favorite books. Indeed the name of God appears not at all in the whole book. But he is there for he is the author.

    We see Vashti mistreated and she is sent away (not killed). And the we see the people of God at risk due their very lives as the villain plans to have them executed.

    The only hope appears to be Esther. Yet the real hope is God, for he has so ordained events that Esther’s uncle was involved in saving the king, earlier.

    My favorite part in the while book is when the villain has secured from the king a writ to kill the Jews. And he is erecting a gallows on which to hang Esthers uncle. Then we see God’s plan come into the open. The king has insomnia, so he pulls out something boring to read—the court records. Surely that will put him to sleep! But instead he reads if a Jewish man (Esther’s uncle) who saved him. He then asks the villain what should be done to honor such a man. The villain assumes that the king is referring to himself and lays out a great event and details to honor him. And then the king tells him to find this man and carry out the plan!! Ha! The evil house of cards that the villain has plans suddenly begins to fall.

    I share this long account to encourage YOU. I share your weariness with this fallen world. Sometimes it can seem so bad thst we feel thst the gallows have been erected for us and God is nowhere to be found.

    But…..GOD writes the last chapter! We can fund great hope in God’s absolute sovereignty. He has a plan and that plan includes all who have trusted in Christ. We cannot begin to imagine how wonderful heaven will be. And when we are standing without sin and without death, face to face with Jesus Christ, the years we spent here will seem but like a minute of time.

    Peace and joy.

  • crosseyedandpainless

    Perhaps Esther might have put in a good word for Vashti, say, Your Eminence, I am not your wife, but Vashti is, and it was horribly wrong for you to have sent her away and you should be glad to see her once again. In other words, the moral of the story is that Vashti gets kicked to the curb so that Esther could be a hero. The other moral is that Esther is no hero:

    So the Jews smote all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and
    destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. … Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to
    defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies, and slew
    seventy-five thousand of those who hated them.

    For how indiscriminate the described mass murder:

    And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

    Lastly, the First Persian Empire became the model for many a later empire. You don’t have peace anywhere, let alone in flyover country, if you go about the place killing all of the one tribe. Which explains why we know much about the First Persian Empire and all of it contradicts Esther. This, from another soul, pretty much explains the continued embarrassment: “Indeed the name of God appears not at all in the whole book. But he is there for he is the author.” Or we could say instead, the name isn’t in the book because it isn’t of God.

  • Markus R

    The Bible is the historical revelation of God’s plan for redemption of the Church—God’s object if love, grace and mercy. If you don’t understand the story, it will make little sense.

    In Esther we see the age old account of Satans continued efforts to destroy the Church, and God revealing his faithfulness by saving them and destroying its enemies. God is Keeping his covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. He eventually fulfilled them in Jesus Christ.

    You may find it horrific that God would slaughter nations. But it is because you do not understand the goodness and holiness of God, nor the depth of our sin. Man,in his sinful condition is an enemy if God. It be blunt, he is furious at man every hour, minute and second.

    The good news is Jesus Christ. In him we have forgiveness and peace with God and, indeed, eternal life, if we repent and place our trust in Christ.

    But you know God exists. It is why you raise your angry fist at him. You suppress the clear evidence of his existence so that you can enjoy your sinful ways. I know this because I am a sinner, also.

    The wrath that God has poured out in history pales when compared to the punishment that waits for you in hell if you do not turn to him. I urge you to consider the claims if the Bible.

  • newenglandsun

    Esther is about Esther. Not about Christine Ford…

    When someone has done something horrific, it is not a matter of bravery to report it, it is a matter of civic duty. Kavanaugh had access to nuclear codes and Ford failed in her civic duty to report the incident to us when he had access to the nuclear codes.

    When someone has failed their civic duty for 35 years, the next matter is to seek the truth. That is why witnesses are supposed to testify and give evidence and the witness testimony happened to be significantly stacked against Ford (4-1). How is that out of five people, she’s the only one who remembers even this gathering?