There is a tradition in the Dominican Order to have a special, more formal chapter meeting on the day preceding the Annunciation and the day preceding Christmas. On March 24, one of the sisters sings the Gospel of Luke that tells the story of Gabriel\’s visit to Mary, using the special plain chant melody of our Order for this occasion. Following this, one of the sisters gives a \”sermon\”, a talk that perhaps inspires other sisters with her unique thoughts. And maybe you will be inspired, or thoughtful, or something yourself as you read this year\’s sermon by Sr. Mary Thomas, OP. It\’s a little long, so we will post half of it today and half tomorrow.
Chapter One of Genesis is a most beautiful depiction of the creation of the world, including all the plant and animal life, and finally the creation of man and woman. But for some reason it stops right there. It is in Chapter Two that we find the story of how the man was created from the dust of the earth; how the animals were presented to and named by the man; and then God’s creation of the Garden of Eden, filled with every kind of delicious fruit and vegetable, plus the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life in the center of the garden. God tells Adam, this first man, “I have given you all the green plants for your food; but you may not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There is only one thing lacking in this place of perfection: a suitable companion for Adam. So God takes one of Adam’s rib bones and makes it into a woman, and Adam names her Eve.
As the story progresses, we meet the serpent, who tempts Eve to take fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil and eat it. We know how this sad story ends. Eve accepts the fruit and eats it, and she gives some of it to Adam, who also eats it. Then they realize they are naked, and hide themselves from God. Have you ever wondered why Eve did this? She was perfectly happy in Eden, with her perfect husband and a healthy vegetarian diet, not to mention an unbelievable friendship with God, their Creator. I think C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra can shed some light on how things might have happened. In this book, the hero is mysteriously transported to the planet Venus (called Perelandra, in the novel), where he encounters a woman who is the equivalent of Eve on our planet earth. This woman, too, is tempted by an evil creature to break the rule God gave her, but this temptation takes place over a very long period of time. The creature tries all kinds of suggestions, tells stories, encourages vanity, anything to help his case. In the novel, the hero wonders if Eve faced a similar challenge. Did she immediately succumb, as the Biblical text seems to indicate, or did she face the same constant, wearying temptations the tempter uses on the woman on Perelandra? Did she finally just get tired and decide to take the fruit?
Move forward unknown ages of time and we are in in a town called Nazareth in Galilee, where we find a virgin, betrothed to a man named Joseph. Her name is Mary. The angel Gabriel comes to her with a startling announcement: Mary has been selected by God to bear His only Son, a child who will sit on the throne of David and rule forever. Mary is puzzled by this, because she has made some kind of vow of perpetual virginity. But the angel reassures her. It will be a childbearing like no other; this child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. And as proof, Gabriel adds, “Your cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant—Elizabeth, the one everyone thought was barren! Nothing shall be impossible for God.” Mary considers this, and then replies: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Her response was ideal: prompt, obedient, trusting. With this acceptance, Jesus is conceived in her womb. Nine months later He will be born, in Bethlehem. Some thirty years after that He will be crucified and buried, but He will rise from the dead, and his kingdom will truly have no end.