Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Esther 4) transports me to the chapel of Southern Seminary in Louisville, 1987, where the seminary choir and orchestra were debuting Esther, the Queen, an operatic re-telling of the book of Esther written by Mozelle Sherman (lyrics) and Ted Nichols (music). This may sound a bit unlikely, but I cannot overstate my enthusiasm at attending this event and standing in line afterward to meet the composer. Ted Nichols first gained fame in the 1960s as the music minister of the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, where radio preacher J.Vernon McGee of Through the Bible fame was pastor. But the reason I was so excited to meet him and get his autograph was that in the 60s and 70s he had been the musical director for Hanna Barbera, and had given the world many of the theme tunes that still run through my head. I waited in line and finally shook his hand, got his autograph, and told him that as wonderful and moving as the Esther opera was, I thought that his career had peaked back in the late 60s and early 70s; I didn’t see how he would ever top the Flintstones and Scooby Doo.
It could be argued that the composers of the biblical operatic tradition had long peaked by the time the book of Esther debuted. I mean, how do you top the flood story, the exodus, the cycle of judges that included characters like Samson, and the family saga of David? To top it off, the book of Esther doesn’t even mention God. But there it is, detailing the melodramatic time when the minority Jewish population was at risk of annihilation at the hands of the Persian empire. It is a story of how the unlikeliest of people formed the threads of salvation history, summoning the courage to speak truth to forces of discrimination and destruction. It turns out to be quite a story, with a great ensemble of bass, baritone, and tenor singers with great character names like King Ahaseurus and Mordechai and Haman involved in revenge and murderous plots and heroic acts of salvation worthy of Puccini or Verdi, if not Ted Nichols. The soprano’s aria comes when Queen Esther, with her Jewish identity unbeknownst to the King, breaks protocol and risks her own life to go in and plead the case for her people to avoid genocide. The recitative, that part of an opera where a singer or singers propel the important action, provides the most memorable lines of the show, though, as Queen Esther’s cousin Mordechai talks her into taking this risk, his argument ending with the famous line, Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
This scene and the truth of Mordechai’s line has been lived out on the world’s stage of major social change time and time again, as unlikely people are propelled into critical positions of influence and power. I love reading histories of epoch times like Taylor Branch’s account of the civil rights struggle, and see the names of otherwise unknown people, an Avon lady or a tenant farmer or a high school drop out hanging out at a bowling alley who somehow found themselves in positions to radically alter the course of history by the courage to speak out for a minority population threatened with discrimination and destruction. I wonder how many of them might have had a cousin who said something to them along the lines of Who knows but that you have came into your position for such a time as this? I think about some of the major scene changes taking place on our own world stage now, in our own culture, in our own communities and churches and families, the battles and the plotlines of victory and defeat that will ultimately be a part of God’s great arc of salvation history, and I wonder who the unlikely people are God is positioning for an aria of courage that will make all the difference for social justice and peace and equality among the marginalized and discriminated against. Who will sing the recitatives that propel the kingdom of God to become more fully realized on earth as it is in heaven? I wonder who I need to be speaking Mordechai’s words to – for such a time as this.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.