Adam lay ibounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thoght he not too long.
~ Anonymous (15th century ode)
The Easter vigil at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church was a night of symbol and ritual. The new fire was kindled outside, the Paschal Candle lit, and then came the procession into the darkened sanctuary. As I stood there in the darkness, there were only two sources of light available. There was the Paschal Candle at the front of the church. The second light came as a surprise. Halfway back, emanating from the darkness was an illumined apple with a bite taken out of it. It was the unmistakable Macintosh logo shining in the darkness (I later learned that a technician was digitally recording the choral music that night – the reason for the laptop in the sanctuary).
Of course the apple has been a deeply ingrained symbol since long before Macintosh acquired it. It has served as a symbol of the despair that followed disobedience in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It has also been a symbol that celebrates knowledge. How many times have we seen those happy back-to-school images that include a stack of books, smiling children, and that familiar apple for the teacher?
As I stood there in the darkness of the night, awaiting the coming of Easter, I thought about how that apple is the reason we are gathered here to remember the Paschal mystery, and to celebrate our redemption. The bishop spoke that night of how we all have dreams that die – things do not turn out the way we had hoped – and how we must let those dreams die in order to find new resurrected life. He described that life as a creative fire carrying us onward and beyond. As I stood there between the apple and the Paschal Candle, I felt that I knew about dreams that die, new life that arises, and fire that carries us forward.
The anonymous medieval poet certainly knew the drama and hope of redemption. A traditional interpretation of the poem quoted above is that Adam, as a result of the apple, was trapped in Limbo for 4,000 years until being liberated by Christ’s cosmic redemption that included the harrowing of Hell. It can also allude to humankind being in bondage to sin until the coming of Christ. To me, the power of that poem is in re-imagining bondage and hope. Consider that before the apple in the garden, Adam was just as bound by Eden’s bliss. It was a bliss that included a lack of consciousness and a lack of struggle; where 4,000 years could pass as a long weekend. The poet has the wisdom to speak of that fortunate fall which brought us life as we know it, with all of its joys and sorrows. The ode that begins in bondage ends in thanksgiving:
Blessed be the time
That appil that take was.
Therefore we moun singen
Like the anonymous poet, whose identity I wish we knew but whose anonymity makes him or her truly one of us, I stood there in the darkness of the Easter vigil celebrating two lights. The apple’s light of consciousness and struggle, and the Paschal light of hope and redemption. “Therefore we may sing, ‘Thanks be to God.’”