Adam Lay Ybounden

… we still must admit that it is a great grace that God did not leave us holding fruit, cast out in the desert.

Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond; four thousand winter thought he not too long. Deo Gracias.

And all was for an apple, an apple that he took, as clerkes finden written in their book. Deo Gracias.

A classic medieval hymn, this song is one for which we have no original musical setting. The lyrics have been passed down through countless generations and are often still sung in the original middle english. But they have been set to numerous different tunes.

The central theme of the carol is that it was Adam’s sin at the beginning of creation that created the opportunity for Christ’s salvation to come into the world. For if the first humans had not fallen, then where would be the need? And though Adam was left bound in purgatory (for four thousand years) waiting for Christ’s arrival, in the end the fall was in some ways a blessed event.

It is fascinating theology in this hymn – one that I sang in my own Lessons and Carols services as a teenager in school. Though there are many things we know differently now (like that the apple was likely a pomegranate and that Adam and Eve may or may not have been literal people), there is still something to this age old question of what if the fall had never happened?

At some point we, humanity, did fall from grace and ushered generations of sin into the world. Whether or not we agree that the fall was necessary for “God’s plan” (which raises as many questions as the Holocaust does about God being responsible for evil), we still must admit that it is a great grace that God did not leave us holding fruit, cast out in the desert.

So here’s the question(s) for today: where do we see the need for God’s grace in our lives? Where are those terrible evils in the world for which we are held complicit? How might we take part in God’s salvation be acknowledging the apples in our closet?

Blessed be the time that apple taken was. Therefore we may singen: Deo Gracias!


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