Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Good Story

This post also appears as the cover article in The View, the parish newsletter for St. John's in Decatur, Alabama. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more about St. John's, please click here.

Right now in the Daily Office, the Old Testament lesson is from the Book of Esther. Although we read more or less a chapter each day, I feel a great temptation to read ahead and finish the story before the lectionary gets to the end. The story of Esther is a compelling tale of jealousy, irony, and justice. Each chapter ends with a major plot point hanging in the balance, and, like a child to whom a parent reads at bedtime, the reader wants to peek ahead and see what will come next. It does not matter that I have read the book before and know what is coming. I still cannot wait to see what will happen on the next page.

I suppose that my impatience should not surprise me. In the Jewish tradition, the entire Book of Esther is read aloud each year on the day of Purim, a spring festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the plot of wicked Haman. As recounted in the story, Haman sought to have all the children of Abraham exterminated, but God intervened through Esther, a Jewish woman who had become a wife and queen of the hapless King Ahasuerus and whose bravery and cunning became the instruments of God’s salvation. Like any good story, it is worth reading again and again even though the outcome is already well known.

As the people of God, we have been telling the same story over and over for more generations than we can count. Abraham rescued Lot and his family from certain destruction. Joseph enabled his brothers to survive a famine in Egypt. Moses led God’s people from slavery into freedom. Joshua led God’s people from the wilderness into a new homeland. David reminded his people to trust in God’s victory. Daniel remained faithful until God delivered his people from exile. Judah Maccabee galvanized a rebellion that purged God’s land from Seleucid oppression. Whenever it seems that the light God has given to his people will be extinguished, God intervenes and enables the story of salvation to be told yet again.

We are a part of God’s great story of deliverance. At the Easter Vigil, after the fire has been kindled and the Paschal candle has been lit, the presider says to the congregation, “Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.” As the various chapters from the story of salvation are read, we are asked to consider how our collective story, the outcome of which is already known, will continue to unfold in our lives. We know that the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that nothing can interfere with his plan to save us from all that threatens us—even death itself—but, still, we tell that same story again and again because it is a story we need to hear.

As a people of faith, we pray repeatedly for deliverance, and we hope that God’s salvation will be made manifest in our lives. In times of trouble, we look for signs that God’s promise is real. Sometimes they are easy to see—a near-miss on the interstate, a clear PET scan, an improbable reconciliation—but other times God’s saving work is hidden from us—rising floodwaters, a crushing betrayal, a devastating knock at the door. In those moments, we need to tell and retell the story of salvation more than ever because, even though the outcome of God’s story is certain, the path that we will take to get there is not. We need remembrances of hope and trust and faith to sustain us when those are the very things that we cannot grasp. Even the Book of Esther, which leaves no doubt that God’s is acting to save his people, never mentions God by name. Instead, the reader is invited to search for God’s hand behind it all—both in the narrative of Esther and in the lives of those who read it.

What chapter in the story of salvation resonates with you? Is it Noah and the flood? Is it Isaac and Abraham? Is it the parting of the Red Sea or the Valley of Dry Bones? Is it another story for scripture, or is it a story from your own life? Remember that, when it comes to salvation, your story is not your own. Salvation history is a history for the whole world—even all of creation. Remember also, however, that your own life’s narrative is a thread that is being woven into God’s tapestry of salvation and that the fabric’s image is still taking shape ahead of us. We may not be able to see the whole picture take place, but we know what it will look like when everything is finished. We know how this story ends, but we tell it anyway.

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