For such a time as this
A reflection on a text from Esther
When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows? Perhaps you have come to the throne for such a time as this?"Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
ITwo days before his inauguration as President, Barack Obama and his wife and children went to Sunday service at a Baptist church in Washington. Rev. Derrick Harkins, the pastor pondered the historic moment and was reminded of a dramatic event in the life of Esther in the Old Testament. What Esther experienced at that particular time, Barack Obama was experiencing in the present time. The pastor invited the congregation to ponder the story of Esther, and to see how they also shared her experience. He took six words from her story as a title for his sermon: For such a time as this.
Esther was a member of the minority Jewish community in the Persian Empire. When both of her parents died she was brought up by a devoted relative named Mordecai. By a completely unexpected turn of events the Great King of the Persians, Ahasuerus chose her to be his queen. He did not know that she was a Jew.
The challenge of Mordecai.
Later on through the connivance of a senior official, a decree was issued for the destruction of all the Jews in the empire. Mordecai sent word of the impending disaster to Esther, and told her that she must go and plead with the king to spare her people. Esther sent back word that no one, not even the queen, could come into the king’s presence unless he had sent for them, and the penalty for breaking this rule was death. The king had not sent for her for thirty days, so there was nothing she could do. Mordecai sent another message warning her not to think that she would be the only Jew to survive, and that if she did nothing, she and all her father’s family would be killed. She must act now. He went on to say: “And who knows? Perhaps you have come to the throne for such a time as this?" This time Esther rose to the challenge. She asked Mordecai to get all the Jews in the city to fast with her for three days; at the end of that time she would go to the king “and if I perish, I perish.”
God prepares us for his purpose.
Reflecting on the story, Rev. Harkins said that it is comforting to look back on our lives and see that God has prepared us for his purposes. God prepares us for where he places us. How wonderful it is to look back at events in our lives that we thought were of no account, or at things that were frustrating and painful, and to see that these moments have been moulding and shaping us “for such a time as this!”
God’s word comforts and compels.
But we must be careful or we could miss our opportunity. Esther might have preferred to stay as she was in the comfort of the palace. But, thank God for the Mordecais in our lives, the people who stir our spirits to do what is right and just. Rosa Parks could have had a quiet life as a housekeeper and seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama. That December evening on the bus in 1955 changed her life, when she refused to give up her seat to a white man as the law required. Her sense of justice and her involvement in a local civil rights movement prepared her for the part she would play in America’s journey toward freedom and equality.
Martin Luther King could have had a quiet life as a scholar and minister of religion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a gifted German Lutheran professor and writer; he could have had a successful career in the United States during the Nazi regime in Germany, but he chose to go back to Germany to oppose Hitler and defend the Jews publicly. In due course he was imprisoned and executed in 1945. His religious faith and formation prepared him “for such a time as this.”
Rev Harkins reminded his congregation of the pilot who landed the aircraft in the Hudson River a few days previously. He had been a pilot for thirty years and had flown many thousands of hours; in God’s providence all those hours had prepared him for the seven minutes during which he landed the plane in the water and all the passengers were saved.
Addressing Barack Obama, the preacher said that while it was the votes of the people who elected him, it would be God’s strength that would sustain him. Perhaps he and his family had been shaped and fashioned for such a time as this.
The last words of the sermon were for all of us. We celebrate the fact that God is still at work in the world and in our lives. We need to be attuned to the Mordecais who spur us on, and we can trust in God as he leads us to do what he has prepared us to do
Lord, Lord, Almighty King,
everything is subject to your power.
Come to my help for I am alone
and have no helper but you.
O God, your strength prevails over all,
listen to the voice of the desperate
save us from the hand of the wicked,
and free me from my fear.