Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Esther and Easter

What does Queen Esther have to do with Easter? Well, nothing. And everything.

The Coronation of Esther (by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld,
Die Bibel in Bildern, 1860) Public Domain
For the first time I can remember, the celebration of Esther's "such a time as this" coincides with Easter. Usually I'm teaching this week about the rich connections between Passover and Easter - one foreshadowing, and the other completing. And I still am.

But this year, Purim - the feast celebrating God's rescue through Esther and Mordechai - overlaps with Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of Jesus' Last Supper. It's odd and it's beautiful. Let me show you why.

In Esther 2:17, we learn that not only did King Xerxes love Esther romantically more than all the other young ladies, but she found chesed favor with him.

Now, the king loved Esther more than all the other women and favored her over all the other virgins. So he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen... Esther 2:17 GOD's WORD Translation

Many commentators call chesed one of the most important words in the Jewish Scriptures. It has so many facets to it that it's impossible to translate simply. Different translations call it different things: favor, kindness, loving-kindness, mercy, approval, loyalty, grace, benevolence, beauty - the list goes on and on.

And the way Esther won King Xerxes' chesed favor is a guide for how we - you and I - win the chesed favor of Adonai, the King of the entire Universe! How can I make that leap? Well, the reason chesed is one of the most important words in the Old Testament - the most important, according to some Jewish commentators, is because God uses it to describe Himself!

...[God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in chesed and faithfulness, maintaining chesed to thousands..." Exodus 34:6-7 (trans?)

Abounding in love, abounding in chesed. This specific phrase is used eight times in the Old Testament, always to describe God - either Him describing Himself or others describing Him. Remember all those things that chesed favor means? God is abounding in kindness, loving-kindness, goodness, mercy, approval, loyalty, grace, benefolence, beauty, faithfulness, devotion, loveliness, unchanging love...

And this word doesn't just extend on and on with different meanings. By its definition, chesed goes deep. There is a persistence, a zeal to it.

In fact, because of this unrelenting, pursuing nature of chesed, Judaism teaches that God's chesed is the very reason for creation itself! That because God is abounding in chesed, He created the world just to have people on whom to pour our His favor. To love and pursue unconditionally.

And so He created this world to love it, to show us mercy and kindness and faithfulness and grace and beauty and approval and steadfastness. And He continues to sustain us, to give us breath and forgiveness, not because He needs us, but because He is simply expressing His nature. 

The Heavenly King IS chesed (1 John 4:16), and so He DOES chesed. And we will celebrate that fact in just a few days.

For so greatly did God love the world that He gave His only Son, that every one who trusts in Him may not perish but may have the Life of Ages. John 3:16 Weymouth New Testament

The Lord, abounding in chesed, went beyond the boundaries of Heaven to walk the talk. All the way to Calvary's Cross. He couldn't not go. 

From the incarnation, to the Upper Room, to the Cross, to the grave, and to the sky, Jesus - the full abundant expression of the Father - was compelled to the Cross by His own nature. His relentless mercy, love and grace. His boundless devotion, loyalty and benevolence. His zealous faithfulness, beauty and kindness.

Chesed is who the King is. And He wants to pour Himself out on you and me. In abundance. From His Throne.

And to get this abundant chesed, all we need to to is approach the throne like Esther did. Bringing only what she was told the king desired (Esther 2:15)

So what is it that the King of the Universe desires from us? To simply believe in the expression of His chesed: His Son's sacrifice. 

And the moment we believe it, we receive it. In abundance.

Father God, your chesed love and favor is beyond anything I can understand. Yet you offer it in the most uncomplicated way. You simply ask me to believe that you love me beyond measure. To believe that out of your chesed, you both created me and died for me, so that I can live in companionship with you. It is the most abundant and pure expression of love and grace possible, given to me, who stumbles in thought and deed every day. Help me to receive your chesed anew each day, with wonder and thanksgiving and joy.