The Joy of Purim

Beginning at sundown this evening, our Jewish brothers and sisters will celebrate the Purim, a festival that commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from Haman’s plot to  annihilate all the Jews.

Purim is a feast of joy, but not just joy that the Jewish people survived the plot of Haman.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that something deeper is at work, suggesting that

when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It’s about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a way of saying, “I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart.”

Sacks goes on to say that “the people that can know the full darkness of history and yet rejoice, is a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.”

Reading Rabbi Sacks remarks resonated deeply, because it strikes me that the message conveyed is not very dissimilar to the message conveyed to Christians by the Resurrection of Christ.

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Week 4 is all about Resurrection, and the grace of Week 4 is to “feel glad and rejoice intensely because Jesus rises in exultation and in great power and glory.”  The joy we are talking about here is not a bells and whistles joy.  If I have been with Jesus at Calvary, I can never again leave the cross and tomb behind.  I carry the cross with me (as the risen Jesus carries his physical wombs on his body).  Resurrection is happiness in the midst of the empty tomb, grief, loneliness, and the sense that things are not the way things are suppose to be.

Although Christians express the basis of our convictions differently than our Jewish brothers and sisters, with them we are “a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.”


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