A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Is there anyone here tonight who does not know the story of Adam, Eve and the Serpent?
Is there anyone in this room who has not learned just who is to blame for the FALL OF MAN? Is there a soul among us who could not, without benefit of text or cheat sheet, tell the story we heard in our first reading? Of course not. The story of Eve’s temptation, Adam’s fall, the serpent’s wickedness and God’s judgment is a bedrock story of “western” civilization. We all know of Eve’s inherent weakness and innate tendency towards temptation. We all know it was she who introduced sin into the world. Who among us would doubt that Adam is the innocent victim duped by the woman at his side. All he did was take what she offered.
And what about the snake—the one condemned to crawl on his belly for all eternity? That wicked, slithery, mean-spirited, split-tongued, conniving critter. No nobility there. That’s for sure. My father taught me well—watch out for snakes.
What do you think about a woman charmed by a snake? What credence would you give to her or her sisters?
No wonder this event is called “The Temptation of Eve.” I bet each of us here can bring to mind a picture of just what that looks like.
After all—we’ve had centuries, millennia, to hone our imaginations—the nod of her head, the look in her eyes, the fruit in her hand. We know Eve. We’ve got her number.
We catch her image in a crowd. We see her sashay down the office hall. There she is seducing yet another victim by her wily ways. Beguiling yet another Adam to join her in her sin. Some say they’ve met their share of Eves. Perhaps they’re right.
And then again—maybe not. I wonder, “Is the Eve we think we know the Eve God created, loved and clothed?” Do we know Eve or do we know an Eve woven from threads of fear and insecurity? An avatar, an image dredged from the murky waters of our shared past?
Eve—quilted from ancient fabrics culled from Holy texts. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, Ben Sirach said of her, “From a woman sin had it’s beginning, and because of her we all die” (Wisdom of Sirach, 25:24). In words attributed to the apostle Paul, the unnamed writer of the First Letter to Timothy once said, “ I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2: 12-14). All this built on a text people know but have not read.
Fast forward centuries, maybe even millennia. In the early years of the Reformation, two cranky priests (can that be?) wrote a pamphlet that changed history and in so doing condemned hundreds of thousands of women to death for witchcraft.. They called their little tome, “Malleus Maleficarum”—“The Witchfinder’s Handbook. In it they argued that “women were, from their creation, imperfect and lustful beings who pose grave dangers to men”
All tapestries woven on an ancient story. But the story written or even, I suspect, the story told is quite different from the one we know so well. A close read of the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent and God yields a different tale. One far more nuanced and, I would add, far closer to truths you and I know from our lives.
Here’s the story we skim but do read. A story told in part but rarely in whole.
“...the Lord God formed the groundling1 from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the groundling became a living being.
“The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the groundling whom He had formed. And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad....
“The Lord God took the groundling and placed the groundling in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it. And the Lord God commanded the groundling, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the groundling to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for the groundling.’ And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the groundling to see what he would call them; and whatever the groundling called each living creature, that would be its name....but for Adam no fitting helper was found. So the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon the groundling; and while he slept, He took one of the groundling’s ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And the Lord God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the groundling into a woman; and He brought her to the groundling. Then the groundling said,
‘This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman for from man she was taken.’
“The two of them were naked, yet they felt no shame. Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’ The woman replied to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.”
Now I wonder—who was right, who better knew the heart of God—God who said so confidently, “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall surely die” or the serpent who said, “You are not going to die.”
The woman saw that tree. She saw that the fruit was good for eating and that the tree was a source of wisdom. Why not take that fruit? Why not seek that wisdom? Why not share with the one with whom she shared her life? Why not hand him a piece of fruit?
They ate the fruit. They didn’t die. They were not even abandoned by God. For as soon as God noticed they’d gone missing, God searched for them in the Garden and called out to the man, “Where are you?” and the man replied, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God then asked the man, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?”
Hear Adam’s reply: “The woman You put at my side—she gave me of the tree and I ate.” And the woman’s explanation—hardly noble. “The serpent duped me, and I ate.”
The rest of the story is well known. The serpent is condemned to life on his belly. The man to a life of hard labor. And the woman to one of pain. All are cast out of Eden.
Yet even so God does not abandon them. “The Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
This is not the story of a woman gone bad. This is not a tale told to keep women in their place—whatever that may be. This is a story about God and God’s life with her creation.
I’m struck by what this story says of God. Not the God of condemnation and judgment—though that is there—but God who sees a deep human need for companionship and meets it; God who sets limits and determines consequences and then revises those consequences in light of lived reality; God who cannot destroy that which she has created; God who searches for her children when they are missing and who clothes them when they are naked. God who draws lines and then reaches across them.
God to whom the psalmist sings, “You rescued me because you delighted in me.”
God who in this Lenten season invites us to rend our hearts that she might draw close.
1“Groundling” is a translation of the Hebrew word “ha-adam” which means “of the ground” and is not gender specific. Mary Phil Korsak uses this translation in her article, “Eve: Malignant or Maligned” in the 1994/95 issue of CrossCurrents