Note from CM: I’m always happy when we can post something from our friend Adam Palmer. This is good stuff, folks.
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CAIN, ABEL, AND A THEOLOGY OF THE TABLE
By Adam Palmer
Too much grief. I have so much, and have it so consistently, and I almost always have it because of our violent world. Because someone shot someone else, or a group of people, or a church filled with people, or a school filled with people, or an outdoor concert venue filled with people, or a middle-Eastern city filled with people, or…
“This is nothing new,” say those who have gorged themselves lethargic on cynicism. “Oh, and you’re surprised by this?” they say. “Try reading history.”
Of course it isn’t new. The only thing new about it is our technological advances that allow for more rapid death and more rapid dissemination of news about that rapid death.
Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah vividly depicts the beginnings of human-on-human violence within the story of Cain and Abel. For a heart-stopping and spellbinding 27 seconds in the midst of a creation narrative, he shows us the silhouetted brothers, one violently smashing the life out of the other, the sun low on the horizon. Sunrise on violence? Sunset on peace? Perhaps both. The silhouettes blinkingly shuffle form through every kind of pre-firearm soldier imaginable.
The meaning is clear: when we enact violence against one another, we are reenacting the first violence found in the story of Cain and Abel.
No, of course it isn’t new.
In the story of Cain and Abel we see a sin that is the first of its kind. Adam and Eve sinned against God; Cain sins against his own brother. And it was because of a sacrificial rejection.
Abel brought a lamb and was accepted. Cain brought the harvest of the field and was rejected—and turned that rejection into the first act of violence recorded in scripture.
“Same as it ever was,” say the cynics, and in my lesser moments, I count myself among their number. It’s tough to hold on to hope in the face of the incessant cycle. Pragmatism defeats idealism. The repeated cries of “There’s nothing we can do” outshout hope.
But pragmatism doesn’t belong in Christianity. Jesus was an idealist. In the Christian church, we shouldn’t calculate our chances and make expedient choices. We believe in forgiveness of sin and in redemption and in actual resurrection. These are outlandish claims and, for the Christian, foundational and non-negotiable. They are our hope.
And so I turn to the Table every week and find a hope that lies buried in the story of Cain and Abel.
In the bread and the wine I see the body and blood of Christ. The Sacrificial Lamb. Abel’s sacrifice presented to the Lord
In the bread and the wine I also see the fruit of the harvest. Grain and grape. Cain’s crops presented to the Lord.
At the Communion table are both the brothers’ sacrifices, brought together. In the bread and the wine I see both the harvest and the lamb. Both Cain and Abel. The two brothers, reunited. The enmity between them—between all of us—forever healed, yesterday, today, and forever. At the table, violence is put to death and resurrected as peace.
At the table I lay down my pragmatism, my cynicism, my weary despair, my extended sighs of “This is how it’s always been and how it always will be” and Jesus redeems them and resurrects them as hope. He resurrects Cain and Abel from their sin-forced estrangement and binds them back into fraternal bonds.
The grief is too much. But with it, hope.