Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Earth Sunday 2018
22 April 2018
Today we have an opportunity to reflect on the significance of Earth for us as people of faith, and to reflect on the significance of faith—specifically Easter faith—for Earth.
This is a huge topic and one with immense significance.
I propose simply to offer you some lines of thought that may be worth further exploration, and then to invite you into that exploration in the months and years ahead.
I begin with the ancient Jewish creation myth now found in Genesis 2 and 3.
We heard the opening paragraph of that story as our first reading today, and it is a familiar story for most of us.
You may well be aware that this is the second creation story in the Bible and, very appropriately, it is more ‘down to Earth’ than the poetic version found in Genesis 1.
It is also a story that is more familiar to us because it culminates with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after they eat the forbidden fruit.
We are, of course, not dealing with history here.
Rather, we have a beautiful story of a God who rolls up her sleeves and get her hands dirty as she fashions a living being from Earth.
I remind you that this is not something that ever happened, but it is a story that is fundamentally true.
In this ancient story, the garden comes first. Earth comes before earthlings. We come to be as creatures in context, and the context is Earth whose well-being we are intended to serve.
I could stop there, but I won’t!
But please note how even that simple statement already invites us to rethink our usual focus on humanity as the apex of creation, and our individual convenience as of greater value than the health of the planet.
Let’s dig deeper.
At the heart of the opening scene of this ancient myth is a word play.
The word we usually translate as Adam (or even ‘man’) is simply ‘adam (אדם) in the Hebrew text, and this ‘adam creature is fashioned by God out of the ‘adamah (אדמה), soil or ground.
In this word play we see a profound truth that is obscured by the usual translations, so I invite you to hear this as “the Lord God created an Earthling out of the Earth.”
The first Earthling is neither male nor female. Gender does not yet exist. Shortly the Earthling will be divided into two separate and gendered persons, but—in this story—when humanity first appears we are neither male nor female.
This is actually one of the most significant differences between the two creation stories. We do not solve the puzzle by over writing one account with the content from the other. Rather, as the Bible itself does, we let the two contradictory accounts stand side by side and look to discern the deep truth that each offers us.
Not only does gender not yet exist, but God presumes that our fundamental relationship with other Earth creatures will be sufficient for the well-being of the Earthling. As God discovers, in her own journey of learning and insight, that Earthlings need companionship with other creatures of identical character and equal worth, then the Earthling will be divided into male and female.
For now, let’s just take on board the significance of our identity as Earthlings, irrespective of gender and before any gender identification exists.
The first Earthling is us. All of us. Together. As one.
The gruesome landscape of the crucifixion may seem an unlikely pair for the mythical Garden of Eden, but in the Gospel of John the location is described as a garden:
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. —John 19:41–42
Indeed, in John’s Gospel, as Mary Magdalene lingers in the garden and encounters the risen Lord, she mistakes him for the gardener (John 20:15)!
Who is this second gardener, tending the the overlooked garden of Golgotha?
Paul seeks of Jesus as the ‘second Adam’, so I want to lay that suggestion alongside the idea that the first person is best described as the original Earthling.
Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.—1Corinthians 15:45–49
That is a rich and evocative passage in its own right, but for now I simply want to take permission from Paul to imagine Jesus as the ‘Second Adam’, or perhaps as the ‘Last Earthling’.
The Church is well versed in speaking about Jesus as divine, and our creeds were fashioned in the fire of fierce controversy about the best set of words to express the eternal divinity of God the Son.
We also (mostly) find it fairly easy to speak of Jesus’ humanity.
But Paul is inviting us to think of Jesus as the New Earthling. Not just humanity 2.0, but Earthling 2.0!
In the creation myth, the first Earthling incarnates God’s hopes and dreams for Earth to give rise to conscious life, life that understands its role as being to tend and nurture the well-being of Earth.
In Paul’s theology of resurrection, the second Earthling incarnates God’s hopes and dreams for a renewed humanity: humans who engage in the divine project that was at the heart of Jesus’ own mission and message, the kingdom of God.
God becomes Earthling
It is sound Christian theology to affirm that God took human flesh and not simply human form. The Christ among us is not a phantom, but God as a real authentic human person.
Jesus is not a divine smoke and mirrors trick, but God enfleshed in humanity.
We can therefore affirm that God herself becomes—and remains for all eternity as—Earthling.
Perhaps not ‘an Earthling’ but possibly ‘the ultimate Earthling’: the Second Adam.
We are children of Earth, fashioned from the Earth by the creative invitation of God.
More than that, God has assumed Earthliness through the incarnation.
If we affirm that God was present in Jesus, then we must also affirm that God has entered into Earth, and not simply into humanity.
Some of our most creative theologians in the past few decades have encouraged us to think of Earth as the Body of God.
We easily speak of the God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’.
As Earthlings all of us, we can also affirm that in Earth we encounter a continuing (eternal) expression of Emmanuel, God with us; indeed, God as one of us.
God as Earthling.
Let me reiterate that these are thoughts to explore, not doctrines to embrace.
On this Earth Sunday, I invite you to rethink the place of Earth in our faith, and also the significance of our Easter faith for Earth.
If you are willing and able to do that, I dare say that your view of God will be transformed, as will your view of Earth—and of your own self.
I finish with these evocative words from Saint Paul:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.—Romans 8:19–23
Thanks, Greg, As perceptive and as challenging as ever
I am enjoying these challenging thoughts from Grafton.