This is the first in a five part series called “In the Beginning,” exploring various creation stories.
Genesis 1: 1-8
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
Why creation stories you may be wondering? Why look to the stories we have told of our origins for thousands of years? When Glebe’s Music Minister and I began to plan services for the summer, we knew we wanted to focus on a creation theme. It is no secret that there is a climate crisis. Part of the United Church of Canada’s new creed proclaims that we are to live with respect in creation. We live in a beautiful country, blessed with natural resources that we take for granted will always be there. One of the things I discovered and I think many of us did over the course of the pandemic was a new appreciation for the outdoors, of being able to meet outside with friends when we were not allowed to meet indoors. The importance of green space never became so relevant living in the city.
In times of crisis, we tend to ask questions, questions about our future and our past. The old adage says if we want to know where we are going, we should look to where we have been. That is part of the reason for this series. If you are a fan of comic books and superheroes you can imagine these next few sermons as telling our origin stories. Story. That is what these are and that is how we navigate our lives. Think of your own origin story, I bet that you do not recite your vital statistics, like birth weight and date. You likely tell a story about your birth. I think of my own story, I could simply tell you I was born on Monday January 9th. Instead, I will tell you the story of how my mom’s due date was December 24th (a Saturday) and my Dad took the two weeks of vacation after her due date. December 24th came and passed, no Cynthia. Dad’s two weeks came and passed. No Cynthia. Then sure enough the Monday he went back to work, Monday January 9th, he received the call from my Granny that mom was in labour. This is part of my origin story, what is yours?
Our scriptures were born out a time of crisis, passed down orally then began to be written down during the time of King David, but really gained momentum during the Babylonian exile. During this time the people lost their sense of identity, they lost their home, their temples and rituals. They were faced with questions of theodicy – how could God let this happen – questions of who were they without those things of the past. They did not have their land, king or temple but they did have their stories. So, an effort was made to record to keep those stories which would become the scriptures we have today.
The exiled Israelites were faced with competing stories, from their conquers, in particular the Babylonian story Enuma Elish. The Enuma Elish is one of the oldest, if not the oldest creation stories in the world. It is considered part of the inspiration for the Genesis story. It, like Genesis, begins with chaos turning to order.
The Babylonian exile lasted anywhere between 50 – 70 years. For many of the Israelites Jerusalem and the land was a distant memory, for many born during the exile they never knew of their homeland. When the Israelites returned to their homeland, we know that many did not speak Hebrew. The prophet Nehemiah in Chapter eight recounts how when the exiles return to Jerusalem they gather to worship and as the priest reads from the book of the law, it has to be translated because some of the people don’t understand Hebrew – after a generation of living in Babylon. They have lost their language and been assimilated into the Babylonian culture and empire. The effort begins to reclaim this identity (with positive and negative consequences – a story for another time). They reclaim their identity by telling their origin stories. Who are we, who is God, what is our purpose and how are we to live? These are their questions.
As you read the story* of the Enuma Elish, meaning “When on High,” I invite you to wonder about your own origin story, and the story future generations will tell of us during this time of climate crisis.
“In the beginning, before the heaven and earth were named, there lived two wild and capricious gods: Tiamat, goddess of salt water, and Apsu, god of freshwater. These two gods mingled together to produce many other gods, filling the whole cosmos with clamor and chaos. Nothing was in its right place.
When the younger gods grew so noisy that Apsu couldn’t sleep, he resolved to kill each one of them. A battle ensued, but instead of quieting the noise, Apsu faltered and was killed by Ea, father of the great Marduk.
Enraged, Tiamat advanced on Marduk and his forces, backed by a massive army of demons and monsters, hurricanes and hounds.
But Marduk was a valiant warrior, so he challenged his great-great-grandmother to do battle alone with him. The two fought and fought until Marduk captured Tiamat in a net and drove a great wind into her mouth so that she became bloated and slow, Marduk shot an arrow into Tiamat’s belly, cutting through her insides and puncturing her heart. Then he split her body into two pieces. flinging half of the corpse into the heavens to hold back the waters behind the firmament, and the other half to the earth to hold back the waters that rage below. From her hollowed eyes flowed the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Then Marduk made the stars and moon and assigned the gods to various duties. He put everything in order-sky, land, plants, and animals. Among the gods he took the highest place, and from the blood of his enemies he created humanity to serve as their slaves. Finally, Marduk saw that a great temple was made in his honor, a temple from which he could rule and rest.
He lives in the temple in Babylon, to this day, and the king is his emissary.”
*This version of the Enuma Elish is taken from “The Temple” in Inspired by Rachel Held Evans