by Father Mike Stubbs
Perhaps you have noticed a skull and crossbones at the base of some crucifixes.
Although this macabre image does not appear on every crucifix, when it does, it reflects the tradition that the cross of Jesus stood on the spot where Adam was buried. This tradition also explains why there is a Chapel of Adam next to the traditional site of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
There is no historical evidence for this tradition, neither does Scripture provide it any support. It is a pious legend which developed from an idea that is found in Scripture — that there is a link between Jesus and Adam.
A similar tradition led to the Christmas tree. During the Middle Ages, Dec. 24 was observed as the feast of Adam and Eve. In their honor, “paradise trees,” hung with red apples, were set up in homes. The trees that had originally stood for Adam eventually turned into a sign of the birth of his descendant, Jesus.
Although these traditions go beyond the claims of Scripture, the Bible does draw a link between Adam and Jesus. We find a good example of that in Sunday’s second reading. St. Paul calls Adam “the type of the one who was to come” — namely, Jesus. In other words, St. Paul believes that Adam anticipated Jesus in certain ways.
Adam began the human race. Similarly, Jesus represents a new start for the human race. In another letter, St. Paul even uses the term “Adam” to refer to Jesus: “The last Adam was a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45).
Even though St. Paul sees similarities between Adam and Jesus, by no means does he claim that Jesus is just a repeat of Adam. St. Paul sharply contrasts Jesus with Adam in Sunday’s reading. He goes back and forth between the two, point by point. St. Paul blames Adam for the miserable state we find ourselves in: “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” On the other hand, St. Paul holds up Jesus as the reversal of Adam’s legacy: “Through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.” Where Adam messed up, Jesus got it right.
As we begin Lent, we remember the beginnings of the human race, so that we might make a new beginning in Jesus Christ. Do you remember biology class? The biogenetic law states that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” In other words, the development of the individual repeats the ancestral sequence that occurred during the evolution of the species.
Something similar happens in the spiritual life. What took place for the human race also can play out for the individual. Each of us, in a sense, is Adam. Each of us, through God’s grace, can become Christ.