In Your Midst
Image of the Divine
March 2006

"The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.
I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven."

    The Cathedral’s ceremonial bronze doors, created by German sculptor Ulrich Henn in 1999, tell the story of a journey: the journey of God’s people from the garden of Eden and the miraculous passage through the Red Sea, to Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, his ministry of teaching and healing, his passion, and the sublime promise of the heavenly city.

    The journey begins with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We see the serpent twined around the tree of life, and Adam and Eve setting out into the world: stooped, with their heads bowed in shame, turning their faces away from us. Isolated from each other, they express repentance by pressing a hand to their heart. An angel hovers over them, defending the tree, sending them out of Paradise.

    Their pilgrimage will be long and difficult, full of suffering, but there is a sense in which it is not a punishment, but a marvelous adventure, one in which the surprise of God’s grace will appear at every turn. John Milton famously captured this moment in the last lines of Paradise Lost: “The World was all before them, where to choose/Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.” Ulrich Henn expresses the same paradox of grace in the hands of the angel: with one, the angel sends Adam and Eve forth; the other hand is raised in blessing.

    It is, of course, the promise of Christ’s coming that transforms the curse into a blessing. At the great Easter Vigil the magnificent Exsultet summarizes the Christian view of Adam and Eve’s fall: “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our redeemer? O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”

    The early church loved to imagine Christ’s descent into hell during those mysterious hours between his death on the cross and his resurrection in the Easter dawn. An ancient homily for Holy Saturday describes the scene of Christ’s meeting with Adam and Eve in the underworld:

    “I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place.

    “For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

    “Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

    “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Maria Laughlin

Back to the March 2006 Issue of In Your Midst