Esther’s Banquet, by John Mason Neale
And the king said unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, Queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee; and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. (Esther 7. 2,3)
Neither the word “God” nor “Lord” occurs in the whole book of Esther. Yet I do not know any Old Testament story so setting forth the whole of Evangelical truth. If we look for the Incarnation, I have already spoken of it to you in that verse: As the Word went out of the King’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face: in the same way that, the very moment that the Eternal Word proceeded from the Father, Satan’s death-warrant was signed. If we seek the Blessed Passion, and its marvellous enigma of death destroyed by death, we see Haman setting up the huge gallows for Mordecai, and himself hanged thereon. If you would find the Resurrection, you are told how on that night could not the King sleep. If you would read of the Ascension, if was well told you last Holy Thursday, how the King, our own royal Ahasuerus, returned out of the palace garden, this world, the outskirt, as it were, and precincts of His Heavenly Palace, to the place of the banquet of wine, of the everlasting and glorious marriage Feast.
Here we have the King and His own beloved Bride at this banquet. But think of that terrible fear that all this while was at Esther’s heart; the tremendous danger, that threatened, not her only, but all her people. Already the gallows were set up for Mordecai, already the date of the massacre was fixed, already the posts were hurrying out on horseback, on mules, camels, and young dromedaries, through the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the great Empire; and with all that load of anxiety in her heart, and with all that imminence of peril to her people, Esther approaches the banquet.
And now notice something further. This banquet was not only made sorrowful because of the danger; it was actually prepared as the means of averting that danger. But I dare not say that the Blessed Sacrament was instituted as the great safeguard, as the chiefest help, as the dearest armour against sin. Why not? Because, as the greatest Saints have taught, the Incarnation itself was not intended for that end. They have believed, and would lead us to believe that, if man had not fallen, our dear Lord would still have been Incarnate. Who has words to express the wonderful magnificence of such a plan, to make man one with God? But man has fallen; and therefore one great end, both of the Incarnation and of the Blessed Eucharist, is the reversal of that original danger, is the removal of that original poison.
But still Esther’s feast is no unreal type of the Blessed Eucharist, for this reason also. Hers was made only and solely to counteract Haman’s attack. And your most glorious Feast, if not instituted only for that end, still does work it out, still is your best armour, still is your surest safeguard. If you try to realise so far the danger as well as the help, go a step further yet. We saw the King and the Queen sitting down together at the banquet of wine. They, two, in that paradise of Pleasure; they, two, communing with each other and none else. You know better. You know that Haman was there.
And now, see the terrible meaning as regards yourselves. You come here to that Festival, you desire to be alone with that King, you wish and hope that it may be, So they two went on together. But who else is at your side? Who, the nearer you would be to your Lord, creeps in to tempt and lie in wait for you? Esther would be all her Lord’s; would be alone with Him; would say, Thy Loving-kindness is better than the life itself; my lips shall praise Thee. And then, as Satan presenting himself among the sons of God, as Satan standing to resist Joshua the high priest, so here, The adversary and the enemy is this wicked Haman.
And then lastly, see this. That banquet wrought out, so to speak, the salvation of the Jews. But not at once; but not in and by itself. That law of the Medes and Persians, which to us seems so utterly unaccountable, what a wonderful type it sets us of the Christian struggle! Esther prevailed at the banquet, but to what end, and how far? Not so that she and her people should at once be in safety – no. But so that they should have a right to fight for their lives, and that the King should be on their side.
This (edited) sermon was preached to the Sisters of the Society of St Margaret by their Founder, John Mason Neale, in 1863. The sesquicentenary of his death fell on 6 August.