The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
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.
The best spin we can put on this is that the human beings were not seduced by an appeal to their egos, but rather duped into sin by their ignorance of what it means to die. The consequence of eating this fruit is death. If one doesn’t know what death is, the threat of it is meaningless. Until one has seen death one has little if any context by which to comprehend its meaning as a consequence. Telling a child to stay out of the street is means little until that child has seen a creature struck and killed by a motor vehicle. We may claim a similar child-like ignorance for the human beings. And we would be right.
With the exception of the resurrection of Jesus, this moment in Genesis is of greater consequence than any other single moment in the entire bible. If that sounds like a wildly sweeping claim, please remember that all of salvation history unfolds from this moment, because this is the moment when salvation becomes a part of the discourse. The unfolding of that salvation history is meaningless without what happens here and in the moments following.
The human beings have been tempted, and for whatever reason- prideful ego or utter cluelessness or both- the fruit is eaten, and “their eyes are opened.” Dürer’s 1504 woodcut of the moment does not suggest any anxiety in them at this point. They have not yet been confronted by God and the mood seems to be “So far, so good.” They’re still OK at this point, believe it or not. True, they have done the one thing that God prohibited. But it is not too late.
They have one chance. One shot. They have “put the Lord their God to the test,” and He is about to evidence great anger at it. But they still have one more option- one more chosen move. They’re possessed of Free Will, and know it, so they have an informed choice before them. It’s the single greatest “what-if” in the history of humankind.
That greatest single “what-if” is simple: if they’d repented, if they’d said they were sorry, if they’d apologized and meant it, I cannot help but believe that the righteous and just God operating in this story would have forgiven them. They had the choice to repent and apologize, and from that repentance God easily could have expanded the divine community to five persons- Father, Son, Spirit, the-Human-one, and the-Mother-of-all-living. Such is the nature of this moment….an initial bad choice to be sure, but a host of good ones still available.
Of course, they didn’t repent. They attempted to avoid accountability- “She made me eat…the Serpent made me eat…” A World of hapless victims suddenly appears, and it’s somebody else’s fault. We may rightly ponder that it is this reactive choice, rather than in the prior bad act of eating the fruit, that militates toward the choice God will make- banishment, mortality, pain.
The point is this: on the first Sunday in Lent we are shown the single moment of greatest choice- greater even than the moment of choosing to eat the fruit. We are shown the moment where choosing repentance and apology provided options for forgiveness and full restoration. The need for the restoration effected at The Cross might have been rendered moot. And in this single most crucial moment of choice- the first opportunity to exercise the knowledge they had just seized for themselves- the human beings blew it. They did not use their newly acquired choices wisely. The human beings let their fear rather than their affectionate respect for God rule their hearts and actions.
This is the cosmically vital moment of “Wow. I could’ve had a V-8.” It is chastening to know that we have moments to choose repentance and apology every day. And like our progenitors, we choose precisely NOT to repent and apologize. That’s why we offer the liturgies of the Church, especially the Proper Liturgy of Ash Wednesday- to remind ourselves repeatedly that we have a choice. And all of Lent urges us toward the choice the human beings in the Garden failed to make- repentance and apology.
Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, 5 March 2017, being The First Sunday in Lent