When Mother Storm asked me to preach, around 36 hours ago, she said “it’ll be great, because no one knows who you are!”. I have to say that this puts me at an advantage. Obviously, I hope that you will enjoy my sermon today, maybe even learn something from it, but if not, I am leaving the country in 2 days, don’t worry! T

o add a little context to my being here, my name is Harriet, and I met Mother Storm 2 years ago. I went on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year with some of this amazing congregation, and on Friday night, at our reunion, Mother Storm joked about asking me to preach. She should have known, that if you give me an opportunity to speak about the women of the Bible, I will always say yes. 

Not only is the subject of our first reading today a woman of the Bible, but she is, I would argue, one of the matriarchs of the Bible, Eve. A name synonymous with sin and giving into temptation, she has been vilified through history, and generations of men have used her as an excuse for their misogyny. Women are weak, they are just helpers, they can’t be trusted, they should be subordinates to men. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard these adages before. I hope today to dispel these myths, and give you a new way of reading this, sometimes uncomfortable story. 

When I was confirmed into the Church of England at the Easter vigil in 2021, this reading was one of the many that was used in the service. My partner and I cringed at the time. Why on earth is this archaic part of the Bible, which we both believe to be a metaphor, included in this service? Even yesterday, when writing this sermon, I went over this passage a dozen times, trying to think of what on earth I was going to say. I read commentary after commentary, all written by men, whose only meaningful conclusion was that Eve damned us all, that her choice alone destined us to be separated from God, and to die. Which, to be fair, she made the choice, but she also  enables the prophecy of Jesus to be made. The wounded victor mentioned at the end of this passage is a promise to us that the relationship between God and humanity will be restored, albeit at the demise of this mysterious saviour. Without Eve’s decision, we would not have this Messiah coming to us.

Jesus himself refers to the defeating of evil in a today’s gospel. Jesus’s story about a house divided is meant to show his doubters that they’ve got the connection between Jesus and evil all wrong. Instead of showing that he is in cahoots with the evil powers, Jesus’s healing power and ability to cast out demons is a sign of his power over Satan. Satan is depicted as the owner of the house and Jesus comes like a thief, tying the evil one up and plundering—better yet, rescuing and releasing—those Satan thought he had secured for himself. Jesus makes himself out to be the devil’s greatest foe, not his ally. Jesus is the reason why Satan’s supposed rule over the earth is brought down. Jesus is the reason Satan’s end has come.  He is proving that he has power over evil, that he shows the path to freedom from sin. This all stems from the choice that Eve made. 

Furthermore, he also says that “people will be forgiven for their sins”. If God forgives us for whatever we do wrong, why have none of us forgiven Eve? Jesus stipulates, whatever blasphemies they utter, whatever happens, you will be forgiven.

Why do we find it so hard to forgive this woman? Because the sin is so big? I would argue that there are greater sins in the Bible, committed by men, that we forgive and forget. However, it is a common theme that women in the Bible are only remembered for either their transgressions or their ability to give birth to boys, and those are the only things seen worth writing about them. We have Miriam, in Numbers, who is cursed to live with leprosy after she questions Moses taking another wife. There is a woman in Leviticus, Shelomith Bat Dibri, who is not only described as merely being a mother but is also defined by the sin of her son, being referred to as “The blasphemer’s mother”. If you would like to read more about these women, Rabbi Marla Feldman has written a brilliant book which expands on their stories through modern and ancient midrash. She gives various women across the Old Testament the stories they deserve, although strangely, Eve is absent. I wonder why, is it because she is too complicated? Not worthy of a story expansion? Or is it because she was a sinner, she made the choice has led to everything today. 

One of my favourite plays, the History Boys, tells the story of a group of boys trying to get into Oxford and Cambridge. There is a brilliant female character, a teacher, and during a spectacular monologue, she says that. “History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.” The Bible is full of continuing incapabilities, exhibited by both men and women. I suppose for the ancient writers, the only thing interesting about women was when they messed up or gave birth to an interesting man. Everything else wasn’t seen worth writing about. The men sinned too, of course, but there’s so much more written about them, that it seems to dilute it a touch.

Imagine if we had a fleshed-out story of Eve’s life? How did she feel after being tricked by the serpent? What was her relationship with her children like? How was she after giving birth to a son that was designed to replace the one that was brutally murdered by his own brother? Adam lived for 930 years, there’s got to be some marriage tensions there. The point is that if we discount the women in the Bible, we lose some beautiful stories. If we discount women full stop, we lose beautiful stories, skills, and half the population. If we discount women, we are divided. If a house is divided against itself, it will not be able to stand.

In the UK, we are about to celebrate 30 years of women’s ordination to the priesthood in the Church of England. However, we still don’t have full equality. We still have allowances for those who do not accept women’s ordination. We have separate bishops who can ordain those who do not want to be ordained by a woman, parishes can pass resolutions stating that they will not hire a female priest, and we only voted to have female bishops in 2014! The results of all these caveats and allowances means that we are a divided church. You can feel the tensions in the pews. One of my friends preached once, and as she walked up to the pulpit, someone hissed from the back of church. How did we get here, from one woman, making a choice at the beginning of the Bible. Let’s show some respect to Eve! 

Eve’s name means “the mother of all living”. You can’t get more matriarchal than that! We are living with the consequences of a choice that a woman made. One of the first choices ever made, mind you! As for her being subservient to Adam, the title she is given upon her creation: “helper” is a term also used to describe God. God created men and women in his own image, not men with a less than divine side dish. 

Now, in saying all of this, I still struggle with the passage. I have to admit that I struggle with a lot of the Old Testament, if I’m honest. It seems so far removed from my experience of faith, a lot of it is inaccessible, filled with genealogies, temple blueprints and rules we no longer follow. To be candid, I probably still lean towards this story being a metaphor. But should that matter? In reading the Bible, I often ask myself, what can I learn from this? What is God trying to tell me today? I encourage you all to pause and think on this, because, and this might seem obvious to you all already, but the way I read this story is not how you will read it. The way you read this story today will not be how you read this story in a year’s time.  In hearing this story 3 years ago at my confirmation, I closed up completely, cringing at this part of our text that seems so old fashioned. It was only in writing this sermon that I have seen what God is trying to tell me through this. Revel in the struggle. Find comfort in the discomfort. 

The passages that are hard to grapple with can teach us the most, not through their literal meanings, we all know there is danger in taking this literally,  but through our battle to understand them. God is inviting us to delve deeper, to explore, to learn more, to listen. Most importantly, in this passage, he is asking us to learn from a woman, and specially, a  woman’s choice.