But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the open towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, a holiday on which they send gifts of food to one another.
Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 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, 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. So the Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun to do, as Mordecai had written to them.
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; 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. 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, 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. 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.
Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, 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. The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.
King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honour of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
Twenty years ago I walked across a playground to collect my children from school. I was sure the plane crash in New York City was a tragic accident. Unfortunately, I was wrong. A beautiful autumn day on which 3000 people died, and many others were emotionally and physically scarred, became one with wide-ranging consequences for the whole world. How do we remember that day 20 years later?
In this passage the Jewish community is marking events that were a victory for them. The author is explaining what the celebration of Purim means. These verses remind me that humans need ritual to celebrate and mourn life events. These verses cause me to ask, how do we remember important events that shape our communities? It may be that we need to share joy or sadness together. Whatever the emotion, there are times we need rituals to remember life-changings events that shape us.
A year after 9/11, I remember having a memorial service with local churches. We acknowledged how that event had changed those in New York and Pennsylvania, our communities, and our world. Two years ago I visited the memorial at Ground Zero in New York. I found myself deeply moved. Today, twenty years later, we may only pause for a few minutes, remembering the events of that day, the people involved, but not much else.
These last months have changed our lives. These last months have limited our ceremonies together. How can we name and mark the ways we have changed? How can we remember what we have lost and gained? How have we resumed ceremony and what ceremonies do we now find don’t fit who we are becoming?
Our world has changed and continues to change. How do we, like the Jewish community in Esther, create rituals to incorporate the ways we are changed? Our focus today is on the changes caused by the pandemic. Is your church creating a memorial to those who have died during the pandemic? Have you found a way to celebrate together under the new restrictions?
God, help us continue to grow with you. Help us face today with gratitude for the ways you have shaped us and open to the ways you continue to reveal yourself in our lives, in joyful moments and in painful moments. Guide us as we use ancient rituals and create new rituals to connect us to you and one another. Amen.
The Rev’d Martha McInnes, Minister, Cardiff and Penarth Pastorate.