"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 vii. 2, 3.
As you probably know, 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.
But to-day, my Sisters, let us see another Evangelical parable, and that connected with the same banquet. If it is a lovely, it is also a terrible lesson, as you will presently perceive. For it is not here as if only the sweetness of that most Heavenly Feast of the Holy Eucharist were set forth, as it is in the manna; nor its descent from Heaven, as there; nor its marvellous adaptation to all necessities, its miraculous supply to all persons. No; nor here do we read so much of its strength in overthrowing Satan and all his hosts, as when it appears-in the cake of barley bread that tumbled into the host of Midian, and overthrew the tent. No; nor here have we the healing nature of this most heavenly medicine, as when it is set forth by the meal that healed the death in the pot. But we have a lesson, nevertheless, that is not in any of these other stories.
And first, we have the King and His own beloved Bride at this banquet. In some faint, in some poor way, I hope, my Sisters, that you understand both the banquet, and the Presence of the King. But then notice that it is the banquet which Esther had prepared. How can it be said that you make the Feast, when it is He from first to last, when He gives His BODY to be the Corn of the Mighty, His BLOOD to be the Wine that blossoms into Virgins? True, He gives you Himself; but then you offer and present to Him yourselves, your souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto Him. Therefore it is called Esther's Banquet.
And do you think of such a feast, such a Royal Feast, the Husband and the Bride together, in the Palace of Shushan, which by interpretation is Lilies; in the banqueting-room which opened out in the garden?--a garden, as we see from the month, in all its spring beauty. Do you think of such a feast as the perfect realisation of all delight? Ah me! There is something else.
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.
Ah! my Sisters, and can you come in any other way? In the midst of life we are in death. Where is there greater abundance, greater freshness, greater sweetness, of Life than here? And where, too, is there greater danger? Only remember what is said about the savour of life unto life and the savour of death unto death. Every day of your lives, my Sisters, you are in the Presence of that Word made Flesh. Most days your hands handle, your lips receive Him. Now, those hands, are they always occupied in such work, and only such work, as befits what has been thus hallowed? We know how the hands of the Jewish High Priest were anointed with the holy oil. But what was that oil to that which your hands, again and again and again, have handled? And then, those lips. You know what the Bride says: Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth. That petition is to you answered in a way infinitely beyond what the Synagogue could ever have dreamt of. But then comes the danger, the great, the tremendous, the terrible danger. Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss? My Sisters, I see you kneeling around me morning after morning; to one after another I give that most Sacred Body which suffered on Calvary, that most precious Blood which dropped from the pierced Hands and Feet, and the Wounded Side. All the following day, will those lips, will those hands act worthily of their, if I may so say, morning dedication of them? All: always: in whatever trials and difficulties? And if not, then----
It seems hard and cruel to put the matter so; does it? But, can there be the comfort, and help, and victory, without the danger and risk also? You may as well ask, whether there can be the victor's reward without the soldier's danger first.
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. Now, my Sisters, 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.
And 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.
What is thy petition, Queen Esther, and what is thy request? And, perhaps, my Sisters, I could put that question into words for you, for each of you. Whatever it is, whatever, in your most earnest times of prayer, you could make it, still, still that Haman will intrude himself even at the highest of all Banquets; even at the nearest and dearest of all intercommunion, Queen Esther's answer,--the King's question,--oh, how they resemble the truth of every faithful soul's prayers now! Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Presume! to touch what is none of his! Presume! to snatch the so dearly ransomed lamb from the Shepherd! Presume! to step in between the Bride and the Bridegroom Who paid no less a price for her than that of His own blood!
And then lastly, my Sisters, 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 (and that is exactly, my Sisters, your case; but so) that they should have a right to fight for their lives, and that the King should be on their side.
Infinite help, infinite comfort, infinite power, from the Blessed Sacrament, but, help to those who feel they stand in need of assistance; but, comfort to those who know that they need consolation; but, power to those that own miserable weakness.
And now, etc.