Sunday, May 1, 2011

National Celebrations

I could not call myself a proper blogger if I didn't make some mention of the big Wills and Kate wedding Friday. I had not planned on watching it, but got sucked into the BBC rebroadcast at about 10 p.m. Friday night. What I found most interesting was the procession by the public down the mall to Buckingham Palace to catch "the balcony scene," as the media kept calling it, as if it were Romeo and Juliet. People moved in an orderly fashion behind a row of Bobbies, until the entire area was filled in. While this slow-moving procession was happening, the BBC coverage kept switching to other places where parties were happening: Kate Middleton's home town, Hyde Park and other parks and places.

I delighted in watching a national day of celebration unfold much more than watching the wedding, although that was nicely done. A friend in Scotland said that she had no interest in the wedding but had ended up going from party to party all day, drinking cheap champagne and mingling with friends. This sense of an international day off to celebrate something as simple as the marriage of a young couple was truly refreshing.

Saturday, in the glow of this lovely experience, I finished making my way through the Historical Books volume of The Saint John's Bible. I've been writing on the illuminations for the third volume of the series: Art of the Saint John's Bible. I finished by writing about two illuminations: "Square Before the Water Gate" in Nehemiah and "Esther" in the book of Esther.

Both Nehemiah and Esther were written after the people of Israel returned from exile. Nehemiah recounts the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. At the center of the book, the part related to the illumination, all the people are called together inside the newly constructed walls of Jerusalem and the book of Moses, the book of the Law, is read aloud to them. There are also people on hand to explain what's being read. It's a really unusual means of establishing national identity after Exile: here is our story and the way we have been called to live. Like many before them in the historical books, the first impulse upon hearing the story is to rend their clothing and go into mourning. But, although there are plans for a national day of confession and mourning to come, the priest Ezra declares that this day will be a day of feasting and celebration. Everyone is commanded to have a big party, to celebrate, and so they do.

If you want to read a Biblical princess story, you can't do better than Esther. She is the beautiful virgin, a natural beauty among those who need cosmetics to attract attention. She is a member of the underclass in the Persian Empire, a Jewish orphan (worse than a commoner!), who nonetheless wins the hand of the king. In fact, the king will do anything for her. She saves his life by uncovering an assassination plot and then saves her people from the pompous and evil Haman. What caught my attention, however, was the account of the wedding. "The king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers-- 'Esther's banquet.' He also granted a holiday to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality" (Esther 2:17-18).

For me, it was working with these passages that connected the past to the present. How long has a royal wedding been an occasion for deep celebration. In these times of deep trouble-- wars and natural disasters-- how I long for a day of international celebration. There will be time for mourning and resuming the struggles of life. For a day, let us celebrate who we are and our collective story with hope and joy. Given the response to the Royal Wedding, it seems that many people share this longing.

photo of the crowd on the mall from:

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