Last week I was in Mississauga attending the ministry centre Christmas party and Dustin Schellenberg from Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB spoke to our group of party goers via Skype about this image. I was moved both by the image and what he said about it so with his permission I am sharing his devotional from last week.
This is a drawing is by Sister Grace Remington from the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. It is a drawing of Eve and Mary, iconic women of history. Eve, the first woman and mother of us all she stands as a representative of all humanity. Her eyes downcast and face sorrowful she appears heavily laden. She stands naked before the world with nothing to cover herself but that which she possesses herself, and it is woefully inadequate. Clutched in her hand the very object of disobedience and sin, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Her feet are tangled by the personification of evil, the deceiver, Satan as the serpent. You can imagine beneath those tight coils a bruised heel. She bears the curse that we each bear.
She even appears to be moving away from the bower setting around the frame, an entrance to a garden. The serpent has led her away. She has nothing but shame and the forbidden fruit as her possessions and she stands alone. This is our mother; through whom we are each born.
And across from her stands the virgin Mary, theotokos, mother of God. Garments of white to symbolize the purity and righteousness that is to come through Jesus Christ, yet tinged in blue to represent the kingdom of heaven that he will proclaim. The serpent’s head firmly crushed under her foot as she is almost taking a step back towards the garden when God and humanity were not at odds. And yet she bears a familial resemblance to Eve. She is not divorced from the humanity of whom Eve is the progenitor, rather she is firmly part of it. Mary is part of humanity; she is one of us. They stand as two choices, disobedience and obedience, pride and humility. Examples of the consequences of choice and the love of God.
Now consider their hands. Mary doesn’t stand with her hands at her side or raised up nor even making some sort of holy gesture. With one she reaches out to comfort Eve as if to say there is hope, lift your head, you no longer need to be downtrodden and defeated. There is an end to the weight of your grief and you can know joy again. Her other hand is entwined in Eve’s and rests upon the yet unborn baby. These two hands stand as a symbol of salvation being interwoven with humanity, as if Mary is inviting Eve to come be part of the experience of redemption.
The focus of both women in the picture is also very important. Where it could have been drawn with Eve looking at Mary and Mary looking to heaven or even facing forward as she is often depicted, they both instead peer downward at Mary’s belly, the unborn baby. Mary isn’t the focus; Eve isn’t the focus; rather this incredible event is central to their focus. And it is such a human event. Pregnancy, childbirth, the very means by which we continue to exist is the method by which God enters the world.
The artist could have drawn Mary holding Jesus as a baby, but I think something really profound is said when she stands there pregnant. If you recall the specific curse placed on Eve was that childbirth would be a painful ordeal and I imagine some of the sadness in her face as she looks down at Mary’s belly is how every childbirth is a reminder of that curse. And yet Mary too looks down at her belly and knows that even though this childbirth will be painful, through it salvation will enter the world.
Because of this birth and the actions of the Son of God we are being invited back into communion with God. So we look at these two women from the doorway of eternity. We stand on the threshold of life with God because of this moment, not fully in the kingdom but not outside it either. I want to close with a poem one of the other sisters wrote to accompany this image entitled O Eve!
My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
— Sr. Columba Guare copyright© 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey
Call to Worship
We gather –
people of faith
and no faith,
people of hope
and no hope,
people of peace
and no peace.
We gather with the longing
to be made whole again
if just for this time, here
We gather with a prayer,
however vague and tenuous,
that in spite of the absence
of virgins and angels,
we might still be a witness
to the birth of all love.
as ready as we’ll ever be
for this story of faith to unfold.
Song – O Come, All Ye Faithful
Reading 1 – John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Reading 2 – Luke 2: 1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Song – Away in a Manger
Reading 3 – Luke 2: 9-18
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah,the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. – Luke 2: 9-18
Song – The First Noel
Prayer – All
God, we confess that often we find darkness more comfortable than light.
We confess that we find your good news frightening and unsettling,
especially when we consider its demands as well as its promises.
Forgive us, break us, bend us, remake us.
Give us the courage to lay ourselves open to the wonder and healing of your coming.
Song – Joy to the World
I wish for you light to crumple up the darkness.
I wish for you love to pull us closer to one another.
I wish for you peace the same as the angels sang.
I wish for you starlight to follow on your way home.
I wish for you promise to keep hope alive for you.
I wish for you God newly born and in the flesh.
I wish for you Jesus Christ, light of the world.
Go in peace.