I wonder how you feel about tradition. A lot of people don’t like tradition. Traditions sometimes seem to be stuffy and old fashioned. Traditions tend to restrict us. They box us in from doing new things.
Of course, we are church people. And so we are people of tradition. Sometimes, we try to get away from the negative concept of tradition, but it is not possible to be a church person and be completely nontraditional.
On Sundays, we gather. That’s a tradition. It’s part of who we are. I find it interesting that virtually every church that claims to be “non-traditional” still meets on Sunday. As Christians, we are creatures of tradition. These simply are traditions that we follow, week in and week out. And as we grow and mature, we find there is life in these traditions.
Tradition isn’t bad in itself. But taking traditions too far can be bad. A friend once told me he didn’t like new Christian songs – just the traditional hymns. “If it wasn’t done in 1905, then I’m against it,” my friend said resolutely. That’s taking tradition too far, of course. And it’s illogical. Air conditioning wasn’t around in 1905, but I know my friend’s truck has air conditioning!
So we can take traditions too far, but that doesn’t discount the reality that Christians are people of tradition. We have traditions that have been passed down to us through the generations. We meet on Sundays. We sing as one. We pray together. We pause to consider the meaning of the Scriptures. We take the bread and the cup. Every now and then, we head to the water to watch a baptism. These deep-seated traditions in the Christian Way bring us life. We know this.
Esther understood the traditions of her ancestors. And she lived into them.
Esther had told the Jews to fast. For three days, she had asked them not to eat or drink. And Esther also fasted, along with the young women who were with her. Fasting is a way in which we submit to God’s rule. It is how we seek out the presence of God. It is how we call upon his power – how we surrender to him in prayer. We let go of things needed for our physical sustenance in order to grab hold of the one who created those things – and us.
There are famous fasts among Esther’s ancestors. Moses and Elijah fasted 40 days while seeking the presence of God (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8). It was perfectly natural for Esther to call for the same, albeit more limited, spiritual practice in a time of great need for God’s people. She was following the tradition of her people – the people of God.
And then Esther took the risky step of entering into the presence of the king, uninvited. She did this on the third day after the decree was issued to exterminate the Jews across the Persian empire. That decree was issued on the 13th day of the first month of the year.
And so Esther entered into the king’s presence, she put her life on the line, during the Jewish Passover (Leviticus 23:5-6). Again, she lived into the traditions of her ancestors as she sought the salvation of God’s people. The annual Passover celebration recognized God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. Esther now was seeking the deliverance of the people from death – even while they still were in a sort of slavery. Esther was seeking another Passover.
And then, somewhat surprisingly, Esther held a feast. She didn’t have to hold a feast. The king already had promised Esther the gift of up to half his kingdom – if she would only ask. But she didn’t ask. Instead she held a feast. It’s surprising, unless we know the traditions into which Esther was living. The Passover meant feasting. Year in and year out, the Jews feasted at the Passover, remembering the salvation of God. It was the tradition.
And so Esther didn’t ask the king for half his kingdom. She didn’t want half the kingdom. She wanted the king to come to a feast – a reconfigured Passover feast. Esther was living into the traditions of her ancestors. And she was saving the Kingdom.
We can’t tell the rest of the story yet. And this is a story. It’s a salvation story, and we ought to dwell in it one step at a time. And today’s step is about the traditions of the people of God – and it’s about how we live into them. Do we live into them with the eager expectation that God is at work in them? In our gathering, and our singing, and our praying, and our bread and wine (or grape juice!), and our listening to the Word – are we living into them with the expectation that God is at work, that he’s saving us as we go?
We look for the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We only are born again through the power of God. But we also must live. We must move and think and act like living creatures – creatures who were created not only to sit, but also to do. And so what should we do? Esther may be telling us we should live into the traditions of our spiritual ancestors. And, like Esther, we should expect the saving work of God to move through our lives as we live into those traditions.
The apostle Paul told the church in Philippi about the glory of Christ, who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. Jesus didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, the took on the form of a servant. Therefore, Paul said, we ought to obey God.
Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Indeed, there’s something we ought to do. We don’t earn it, but we do live into the tradition of our spiritual older brother – of Jesus Christ. So we pray, and we fast, and we eat, and we drink, and we forgive. These are the traditions to which we cling.
And we expect the saving work of God to inhabit these traditions. We expect these somewhat unchanging traditions to do the work of change – of salvation – in our own lives.