“What is the gospel?” Ruminations on creation, evolution, and Eucharistic Prayer C

This week in my Systematic Theology course at Bexley-Seabury we learned about different perspectives on the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. We were asked to identify how the preface to Eucharistic Prayer C tells the story of the gospel, including questions like “What human situation do we find ourselves in?” “What does God do in response to this situation?” “What is the result of this action?” My essay is below, with the specific quotes from the liturgy in quotation marks.

God, the “Ruler of the Universe,” exercised God’s “will” to bring Creation into being. “At your command all things came to be” is a reference to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo meaning “creation out of nothing” which means, conceptually, that God is of an “infinite qualitative difference” than Creation (as per Kierkegaard and Barth) and existed prior to Creation. In other words, there was a time when Creation was not, but there was no time when God was not. This week’s readings strongly emphasized the idea that creation ex nihilo includes the idea that Creation is completely dependent upon God in every way, including for “their being.” An example of this: the reference to the earth as our “fragile earth.” Our earth is fragile in the sense that it is not self-sufficient and relies wholly on God for its existence and being. In this same sense “fragile” could apply as well to anything that is Created.

God’s Creation includes everything that we consider to be the “Universe” (“Ruler of the Universe”). These include “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.” This also includes not just the stuff or elemental particles of matter, but also the “powers” of the universe (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak forces). God is the creator of those “powers” as well. For example, referring to God as the “God of all power” can be interpreted to mean that God is omnipotent. However, it could also be interpreted similarly to the phrase next to it in the liturgy “Ruler of the Universe” to mean “God of All the Powers of the Universe,” which would include those referenced earlier.

Part of Creation includes “the human race.” The liturgy says that it is “from the primal elements” that God created us. The language is sufficiently ambivalent to encompass a wide range of hows regarding how God used the “primal elements” to create humans. A strong literalist could say that this liturgical phrase is consistent with the idea that God created humans from the “dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7 NRSV), “dust” itself being made of primal elements. This phrase could also readily allow, though, for a position that God created humans through some sort of guided evolutionary process where the “primal elements” were those comprising the first microorganisms that reproduced and kick-started the evolutionary process that eventually resulted in the evolution of homo sapiens, as per the secular biological evolutionary account. The liturgical text doesn’t take a position one way or the other, but this is consistent with the doctrine that creation ex nihilo is more about a description of the relationship rather than of the process.

God then “blessed us with memory, reason, and skill.” This enabled us also to have “will” and thereby make choices. We were then charged to be “rulers of creation.” This is intriguing. Earlier the liturgy describes God as the “Ruler of the Universe” and here it shows God making us to be “rulers of creation” in an apparent parallelism. What does it mean to be a “ruler”? Presumably different than “creator” but similar to someone who gives commands? Or care-takes? Or loves? Does this mean that God invited us to be co-carers for creation, including the earth and each other? Or something of more cosmic significance?

“But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.” Everything God created is good and therefore humans are created fully good. Because we were blessed with “memory and reason” we are capable of choosing, and therefore do not perfectly use our wills to realize that full goodness. This is sin (a distortion of good), and thus “we are sinners in your sight.”

What do we do with “betrayed your trust”? Does this refer to the charge to be the “rulers of creation” in that same paragraph in the liturgy? If so, “sin” may include failing to perfectly live up to the God-given charge to be a co-ruler/co-carer of Creation.

Given this predicament, God calls us to “return”: away from sin and toward perfect goodness. God provided the path for this to be accomplished, first through the “Law” given by “prophets and sages” and then through the Son who came “in the fullness of time” to “fulfill your Law.” This redemption was accomplished “by his blood,” “by his wounds,” and “through his death and resurrection.”

Through this Redemptive process, humans are able to be “redeemed by him” through the opportunities to be “made a new people by water and the Spirit,” or in other words, through Holy Baptism, that opens for us a life of freedom [from sin] and peace.” Through the sacrament of Holy Communion we are able to regularly be “renewed” (made free of sin) and thus of “one body, one spirit in Christ.”

In sum, this is the account of the gospel in Eucharistic Prayer C: that God created us, that we turned from God, and God created the way through God’s Son for us to be redeemed to become reconciled once again to God.

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