Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Would you Adam and Eve It? A short thought for Christmas Eve
Now here's something new I only learnt today; in many parts of the worldwide Christian Church, December 24th, as well as being Christmas Eve, is also a day to ponder Adam and Eve who are, according to the biblical book of Genesis, the first human pair. These days, Adam and Eve are very often either seen as non-historical, embarrassing irrelevances, undermining the very credibility of the Bible, or, on the B-side of this oh-so-modern worldview, as literal, real human beings whose historicity must be defended at all costs. I suspect that both of these approaches to Adam and Eve would have left the earliest Christians baffled; what is most important, surely, say the writers of the New Testament, is not what we can say about Adam and Eve, but what they say about us as human beings. For Paul, Jesus was the 'last Adam', the man in whose real, historically true human body, all that had been wrong, less and lost in all people down the ages since time began, was put right.
So we come to this picture, painted in 2005 by an American nun. You may well have seen it online; it's been all over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and so on over the last few days. It's called 'The Virgin Mary consoles Eve' and in its beautiful simplicity, it says something very powerful about why so many Christians choose Christmas Eve as a time to ponder Eve (and Adam). In this picture, Eve is downcast, crestfallen; the apple in hand, she knows all that she has forfeited as the serpent winds its way around her leg. Her hair falls around her body like the trunk of a tree, dehumanising her, maybe, making her part of the orchard in which the two figures are surrounded. On the side of her head reaches the hand of Mary, whose gaze also points down, but only to meet Eve's. Mary's other hand rests on her pregnant womb, as bulbous as the pears framing the two. Gently, but firmly, Mary's foot crushes the head of the serpent.
Although this is a recent picture, it gets to the heart of an ancient truth; that in Christ, all that is wrong in our world, ultimately, will be put right. As early as the second century, thinkers such as Irenaeus of Lyons were talking about Eve as the representative virgin whose disobedience to God's command brought sin into the world, and about Mary as the virgin whose obedience to God brought about the birth of the one who would save the world from the consequences of sin. The word used is 'recapitulation'; in God's love, the time will come when all that has been done, said or thought that has hurt or ruined any part of the world which God loves, will be met by a new action, word or thought that will heal the ancient wounds. Every wrong will be righted, every pain salved, every loss reimbursed.
This was what Mother Julian of Norwich had in mind when she said, famously, 'all will be well.' Not 'cheer up love, it might never happen', but, rather, that in Jesus, an era has started in which the time of God's salvation - the name Jesus means 'he who saves' - has begun in a radically new way. This invites and requires the co-operation of real, actual human beings like Mary who have the possibility open before them of saying 'yes' to God, of inviting others to be part of that 'yes', of bringing about real healing to a desperately hurting world.
This Christmas, may we ponder the Eve in us, the part of ourselves that turns away from the face of the Christ-child. May we recognise also the Mary in us, the 'yes' that rises up to meet God's angel. And may we, as we find within ourselves the recapitulation that is the very hallmark of the work of God's Holy Spirit within us, bring that same hope of reconciliation to a world at enmity with itself.
This year we have seen such pain in Iraq, in Syria, in South Sudan, and just this month, in India. What might the good news of Jesus look like for God's hurting children in those places? Well, it might look a little bit like a real, actual woman, with one hand outstretched, the other resting on her bump, her gaze cast low, but only to meet the eye of the one suffering an ancient wrong...