If you like to watch nature shows, or have ever visited an aquarium, you know something about ecosystems. You know they are composed of interdependent relationships among creatures and climate. The success of a system depends upon the health of those relationships. Therein lies the fragility of an ecosystem. A dramatic shift in climate, or some new predator or bacteria, can threaten everything. The introduction of something foreign, if powerful enough, can entirely alter or even destroy an ecosystem, wiping it from the face of the earth. This dynamic of ecosystems is helpful when thinking about God’s creation and redemption.
God first created a garden. In essence he created an ecosystem, but an ecosystem of grace. We might think of divine grace as the climate of the Garden of Eden. This climate of grace was mediated through all the creatures and it ordered all the relationships. But when our first parents, the pinnacle of his creation, turned away from God, they frustrated the entire design. The introduced a foreign influence. They introduced sin. It wreaked havoc. Soon there was envy, jealousy and even murder. What followed was a history of toil, suffering and misery; but not without hope.
We might read the history of salvation as an account of God’s gradual creation of a new ecosystem of grace. With the call of Abraham and the election of the Israelites, it is as though God claims a new territory, a new plot of land, set apart from the fallen world. There he starts again. This Sunday, we hear that God will establish a house for David, from which “I will raise up your heir after you.” David’s house and lineage is an ecosystem for the future messiah. These plans for a new ecosystem continue in Mary. Preserved from original sin and “full of grace,” her womb bears the climate of the new garden. In her, the new Adam will be formed. Through him, this new ecosystem of grace will be opened to all.
When Jesus offers himself on the Cross, when his side is opened by a lance, this new Adam gives birth to the new Eve, his bride, the Church. In her, we all have access to God’s new ecosystem of grace. In the Church, the relationships of interdependence are reestablished. Grace is mediated through the various vocations of priesthood, religious and married life (1Cor 12:4-30). Even creation itself (water, oil, bread and wine) is again a vehicle of God’s grace through the sacraments. Sin once destroyed God’s ecosystem, but his mercy has triumphed and a new one has begun. It will be fulfilled in the world to come, but we experience it now as members of the Church.