Purim begins on Sunday, March 20 (2011) and ends the next day. What is Purim, you ask? To Christians, it may be one of the lesser known Biblical Holidays, as it is not mentioned directly in the New Testament. Mordecai inaugurates the feast in Esther 9:20 ff. as a celebration of the deliverance of the Israelites from the schemes of Haman the Agagite.
For Christians, this is an opportunity to meditate on the significance of the OT story of salvation, a chance to better understand the customs and thoughts of our Jewish friends and neighbors, and an excuse to have some fun. I don’t plan on doing anything really over-the-top this year, but I will try to take advantage of all three of these opportunities with my family–especially the “excuse to have some fun” part.
Here are some of the simple things I think we’ll do this weekend: First of all, I’m hoping to watch the movie “One Night with the King” at some point this weekend. Not having seen the film, I can’t vouch for the quality (maybe I’ll let you know how it goes). But even if it’s sub-par, even a middling movie can be fun and educational.
The next thing I plan to do is read through the story of Esther, both on my own and with my family. The reading of the book of Esther (“the Megillah,” or scroll) is a centerpiece for the Jewish Purim celebration. Try it this weekend with your family; if you’ve never done it, you may be surprised at how quick, entertaining, and easy to follow it is for the kids. You can even get your kids engaged by encouraging them to boo at the mention of Haman (the villain) and cheer at the mention of Esther and Mordecai. I’ll also be reading some children’s book adaptations of the story of Esther to my kids.
We’ll also definitely be eating hamentaschen, little tri-corner cookies said to represent the hat of Haman. You can google plenty of recipes for hamentaschen, and who wants to pass up an excuse to make and consume cookies?
So much for the “excuse to have fun.” Now for a few words about Esther’s place in the OT story of salvation and its significance for understanding Jewish customs and experience. Concerning the former, there are many directions in which one could take things theologically. While Christians may not recognize direct messianic imagery as strongly here as in other festivals (e.g., the Passover lamb), the story illustrates how God cares for his covenant people, encouraging Christians to prayerfully trust that God will care for them, too. Moreover, Esther’s bravery is an inspiring model of faith and faithfulness. The story also reminds us that God was concerned to preserve the Israelites in preparation for the time when, through them, he would bring the Messiah. And, of course, the salvation that God worked through the death, resurrection, and ascencion of Jesus is the one central moment of deliverance to which all other stories of God’s deliverance point.
Concerning the ways in which a celebration of Purim helps Christians understand their Jewish neighbors, it is hard to miss the parallels between the attempted genocide of Haman and the realized genocide of Hitler; many Jews do not miss the parallels, to be sure.
Finally, it is worth considering how a story that never directly mentions God can give such a powerful account of God’s deliverance. Whether one is considering the atrocities of the holocaust, the universal need for deliverance from sin through faith in Christ, or the many situations where people all over the world look for deliverance from political turmoil, natural disaster, or any number of other “Haman” figures–the story of Esther reminds us that God is there, even when we cannot see him clearly. Even when we don’t know where the story is going, God is in control. So, I plan to make some modest attempts to celebrate Purim to remind myself and my family that God is still here, even if I can’t always see how, and he can still deliver his covenant people.