URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 16th December 2020

Wednesday 16th December – Adam Lay Y Bounden

This carol, again more often sung by choirs than congregations, dates, we think, to the 15th Century and tells the story of the Fall.

Genesis 3: 1-8

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die;  for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Adam lay y bounden

You can hear this carol here

Adam lay ybounden,
   Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
   Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
   An apple that he took,
As clerkës finden written
   In their book.
Nor had one apple taken been,
   The apple taken been,
Then had never Our Lady
  A-been heaven’s queen.
Blessed be the time
   That apple taken was.
Therefore we may singen
   Deo gratias!


Following on from yesterday’s reflection on salvation history we turn to the story of the Fall near the start of that history and how the 15th Century hymn Adam Lay y bounden deals with it in relationship to the saving work of Jesus Christ.  One can see why but the rather unhelpful “and all was for an apple” rather reduces the story to its bare bones rather than the truth it was trying to convey.  

The Adam and Eve story was designed to explain how humanity, the summit of God’s creation, came to live in moral squalor.  When the story was first told, war, violence, poverty, jealousy and all the petty foibles of our race were clear.  How could this have happened?  The rabbis of old told the story of human free will leading to our condition.  Christian theologians later then used the story to teach that it isn’t just our own free will that leads to sin but that humanity itself is flawed due to the original sin of our progenitors.  

Many contemporary Christians find the explanation for our flaws as being due to Adam and Eve’s sins rather simplistic but the truth behind the story that we are marvellous yet broken, glorious yet flawed, wonderfully and fearfully made yet fallen all too clear.

The anonymous author of the carol, as a good medieval Christian gives thanks for the Fall as that led to  Mary becoming Queen of Heaven having Jesus’ mother.  Not many URC folk would describe Mary in quite that way nor, seek to give thanks for the Fall!  The beauty of the music and the simplicity of the words, however,  reminds us of how stories, like that of the Fall, remain rich sources of theology and draw people into the life of God’s own self.

Come O God and free your people,
who lay bound in the squalor of sin.,
Free us from 
our inhumanity, 
our callousness,
and, our indifference.
Come, O God, unbind us,
that we may see the restoration of your creation,
crowned with your love
after long dark winter of sin.


Today’s writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston serves with four churches in and around Glasgow.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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