Creation Fulfilled

Sunday 23rd February 2014
Year A, The Second Sunday before Lent
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Holy Communion
Genesis 1:1-2.3
Romans 8:18.25

Whatever we think about the creation story itself, the trajectory of the Bible is clear: God's purpose in creating us was that we should be one with him but, imperfection, sin, wickedness or evil, whatever we want to call it, was factored into the earthly package so that, to use a modern term, the sad side of our world is endemic, or it's in the world's DNA. But the story goes on: the Chosen people struggled to make sense of their obligation to worship the creator God but their struggle was so puny that God threatened to wipe them out in a global flood. Then came Abraham, Moses and the Prophets; but it was still a terrible struggle for the Chosen People to be faithful to their Creator. Finally, as we learn from our passage from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, the suffering creation was put to rights through the incarnation and then the sacrificial death and then the Resurrection of Jesus.

Looking back at the Creation narrative, it's always difficult to work out whether pieces of writing like this are supposed accounts of what happened - let's call them quasi histories - or whether they are explanations of how things are - what we call etiologies. I am inclined to opt for the second way of looking at the text because the first, purporting to be history, has too many curiosities in itself, such as imagining two people alone on the earth, without having to account for the narrative of modern science. What this etiology tells us is that God, having, in some way created the world we live in, wanted a direct relationship with human beings, created in his own image, in which he would be willingly worshipped. But it turned out, as I have said, to be so tough.

We so often read the Bible in tiny pieces out of sequence that it is difficult for us to hold the whole arc of the narrative in our heads: The Old Testament is full of stress and anxiety, of disappointment and defeat, lit only occasionally by episodes like the liberation from Egypt and the temporary glory of King David; But, even then, the liberated Chosen People were marooned for forty years in the wilderness as a punishment for their unfaithfulness; and King David's rule was marred by his own lust and consequent murder and by the rebellion of Absalom and the ravages of divinely inflicted plague. By contrast, the Gospels and Acts are beautifully lit except for the massive episode of the Passion and death of Jesus; but the final part of the Bible, the Letters and Revelation, seek to explain the change wrought by the New Testament over the Old, and our passage from Romans is crucial because it gives us a glimpse of the sheer helplessness and horror under which the Chosen People laboured before the Resurrection of Jesus.

We, as Easter children, will always find it hard to imagine the state of the God fearing Jews before Jesus fulfilled creation and it is amazing how easily we have become accustomed to our good fortune and not particularly grateful for it. If we look over the arc of Scripture we will see how we are in a similar condition to that of Adam and Eve before what is often referred to as "The fall". I say "similar" because the two episodes are far from identical: in the creation narrative, human beings are in a state of innocence - today we might call it naiveté - whereas, with the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus we are still knowing and sinful, we have not been restored, if that is the right word, to a state of innocence. But we are in a better state than Adam and Eve because whereas they had an innocent, personal relationship with God, we have a knowing, personal relationship with God; we know better than they what it means to choose to love God and each other. No matter what the attractions of innocence may be, they are far surpassed by the responsibility entrusted in us to exercise our own free will in the love of God and neighbour.

But, of course, that is not the way in which non-believers see us. They are scandalised that we do not live like Adam and Eve in a situation of innocence: they ask why there are natural disasters and sickness; surely, they say, a loving God would not cause a volcano to swallow up the houses of the poor nor allow a child of two to die of cancer. But the whole point of salvation history is that it is a history, not a state of limpid perfection, it is a history of struggle and encounter, of captivity and release; but, above all, it is a history of choice; and it has to be. As we know from our ordinary lives, there is no point in love that is not freely given; there is no point in the "yes" in answer to the question "do you love me?" because the question has already devalued the answer. The chaos and mess of the volcano, the tumour, the wrong road taken, the terrible slaughter of innocents, is all explained by the fundamental, the life-affirming need for our personal salvation history to be played out in the crucible of difficult choices.

Nobody understands this better than Saint Paul whose shorthand way of talking about affirmative choices is to use the word "love" which, like our personal love, involves complete unconditionality. And, of course, with our God given free will, we find unconditionality a real problem; and, indeed, it's the way in which we handle the tension between unconditionality and free will which ultimately defines who we are. And you probably won't be surprised when I say that we are looking at a paradox because what we must try to do is to choose freely to love unconditionally, to choose to be vulnerable, to be ultimately open to the other who is God and our neighbour.

But, finally, whether the Creation account is a quasi-history or an etiology, notice that the first character in the drama after God himself is the Holy Spirit, moving in the dark, over the chaos. The Spirit that is with us now; the Spirit that has sustained us from the beginning and will still be with us at the end.