I don’t know what you make of the early chapters of Genesis. Certainly, it matters what we make of them; and I am of the opinion that they have been misread in order to keep women in a secondary and subservient place to men. But the account itself is one that I find wonderful. It isn’t, of course, a scientific text. It isn’t concerned with the question ‘How?’ but, rather, with the question ‘So what?’
Our excerpt this morning begins with the human – not the male man, but the human. God has been creating, and has seen that his creation is good and ultimately very good. But now God identifies something that is not good: it is not good that the human being should be alone. Instead, God determines, the human being is in need of something our translation describes as a helper and a partner. Helper is best understood as one who will contend for the human, a warrior: it is a term that God will also use to describe him- or her-self in relation to the human beings. Partner is best understood as one who corresponds to the human, as one bank of a river corresponds to the other.
God presents before the human all the other creatures. Some, perhaps, fit the bill more closely than others: the dog, the horse; but none quite hits the mark. And so God brings from the human two humans, one now identifiably male and the other identifiably female. In the Hebrew, the image is not so much removing one rib as tearing apart two sides, two equal halves.
This pattern is repeated through the generations.
It is a very particular pattern, which describes for us what it means to be human.
First, the human is taken by God. Taken, from among all the other animals, with whom it shares a common origin, of being formed ‘out of the ground’.
Then, the human is blessed by God. Blessed, in no longer being alone. Blessed, in a special position in relation to all the other creatures.
Next, the human is broken by God. Broken, into two corresponding halves.
Finally, the human is given by God. Male and female presented to one another.
A man and a woman are taken, set apart to bring new life into the world. They are blessed, in having a son, or a daughter. In the fullness of time, they are broken – broken in birth, which tears male and female alike from their mother; and, perhaps, broken in marriage, which tears child – male, as much as female – from its parents (this taking a human from a human is not a matter of subservience; it is fundamental to our common nature). And they are given: given to another in marriage, given to the animals and the birds to contend together for the welfare of all creation.
This pattern defines what it means to be human, within God’s wider creation. The human is made to be taken, blessed, broken, given.
That pattern, at the heart of our humanity, is the pattern at the heart of our communal worship. When we take bread, bless it, break it, and give – and receive – it, we are enacting out what it means to be human.
First and foremost, we are remembering Jesus, the fully-human one, who took, blessed, broke, and gave; symbolising his own life, his own full embodiment of what it means to be human, taken hold of by the Spirit, blessed by the Father, broken in accordance with divine will – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in agreement – and given for us all.
But as we do this, as we remember Jesus, he takes us – his Body – and having taken hold of us, he blesses us, breaks us, and gives us to the world. That is, for the sake of humanity and of all creation, he restores our humanity to its original pattern, over and over again.
In our Gospel reading, we saw how seriously Jesus takes our humanity. First, he opposes those men who send their wives away once they no longer find favour in their eyes – that is, who take and break, without blessing or giving. Then we see Jesus rebuking his disciples for seeking to break apart children from their parents too soon, and, in particular, before they had been blessed.
The pattern is not some combination of being taken, blessed, broken, and given; it is this pattern, repeated. It is right there from the beginning, and right there at the heart. And if that mystery doesn’t capture your imagination, I wonder whether you have a pulse.
So, as you come today, to share in the remembrance that Jesus was taken, blessed, broken, and given; and to enter-into that mystery as Jesus takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and gives us; which of these repeating actions strikes you afresh?
Perhaps you are struck by the realisation that you have been taken. That, in Jesus, God has taken hold of your life, and set you apart for a particular purpose. Perhaps you are experiencing a greater clarity in that purpose; or perhaps simply a greater desire for clarity.
Perhaps you are struck by the realisation that you have been blessed. That, whatever your condition, whether unmarried or married or widowed or divorced, you are not alone but blessed with relationships and blessed by the presence of Jesus. Or perhaps you are struck by that reminder that we are blessed in order to bring blessing to others, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you to offer a particular blessing, in word and/or in action.
Perhaps you are struck by the realisation that you have been broken. It may be that today you see the partings in life in a new light, and want to give thanks for those we have loved and no longer share our lives with. Or perhaps a particular breaking is still raw, and you come asking God to heal wounds and bind up a broken heart.
Perhaps you are struck by the realisation that you have been given. And today you want to give thanks for those you have been given to, whether family or neighbours – or a neighbourhood, an environment – or colleagues or even strangers and aliens, or to pray for them in their need.
Whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is stirring in you today, the invitation is this: come, offer yourself again to God, and in return God will create you afresh, forming you from the ground and breathing life into you.