Adam and Eve, you and I. Yes, we all fall down.
Today’s Old Testament reading is a story perhaps familiar to many of us – that scene where Eve is tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps it is so familiar that we don’t even really realize what message it truly speaks.
It’s a story that, at least for me, brings several things to mind: The thought that Satan appears as a snake. That Eve, a woman, tempted Adam, a man – and various jokes I’ve heard spun off of that idea – the often misused idea that there is a weaker gender. Eating that forbidden fruit that we often call an apple – although we are never told that it is an apple. Of Adam and Eve depicted in art with leaves strategically placed to cover themselves. Of a large, attractive tree usually appearing in the middle of a serene and peaceful garden setting.
I suspect that none of these ideas are what this story is intended to tell us.
It is not an easy reading to grasp. Here in Genesis, it immediately follows the creation stories and that alone creates challenges. The devil becomes a snake? Adam and Eve are unable to keep the one simple thing God said not to do? That God told them that if they eat the fruit, they would die – yet they didn’t?
Sometimes it is hard and difficult for us to read past the facts. We are of an age that reads for facts. Just tell us what happened. But when we enter the Holy Scriptures, we enter into a different time and place. In faith, we open ourselves to a different way of hearing and those same words can bring meaning, ideas, and truth to us here, today; in this place where we are – where we live, work, play, and worship.
This reading from Genesis is presented to us this First Sunday in Lent. We begin our Sunday Lenten journey with Adam, Eve, and that crafty serpent. But what difference does that make to us?
We know we are in the season of Lent – traditionally a penitential season that begins with Ash Wednesday where we are confronted with the reality that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. We hear those words that remind us we are mortal, that we will not live forever. That we were created and to our creator we will return.
And now, here we are on Sunday hearing the story of how evil entered into the world. I think it is less important whether or not you believe that the devil is embodied in a snake, or what earthly form evil takes, or if the fruit was an apple, or what fig leaves sewn together really look like.
More importantly, we are confronted with a reality. The reality that we do not live up to all we are meant to be. Just as Ash Wednesday confronts us with the reality that we are human and are mortal and will die. Today, we are confronted with the reality, that in our humanity, that on our own, we fall short of all that God intended for us. We fall into sin. Sin – a word we don’t much preach about but one that we repeat throughout the liturgy.
We hear it in the Gloria – Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.
In the creed – We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
In our prayer of confession – We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
In the Great Thanksgiving as the celebrant leads in prayer over the bread and the wine – Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.
But in these words we are pointed towards God, pointed towards Christ, pointed towards Easter. And the Easter resurrection is where we are headed.
We hear in today’s readings about sin and transgressions, about temptations and trespasses. What is it? What is sin? What are transgressions? A list of what is permissible and what is not permissible, of what to do and what not to do does not define sin. Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God. Further explained, it is those things in our lives, those distractions that distort our relationship with God, distort our relationships with each other and distort our relationship with all creation. These things come to us in many forms:
- Selfishness and greed
- Blindness to others’ needs
- Hurtful, bullying words spoken to someone we think is less important
- Careless use of the world that destroys the environment
- Habits and addictions that consume time, money and health
- Neglected relationships
- Alienating others
- Failing to honor the dignity of other people
It could be in the more mundane and ordinary, such as:
- Language we use
- Jokes we tell that offend others
- The way we treat our parents
- Careless texting and driving that places us and others in danger
It could be in those things we fail to do. Failing to help and to do those things which we know to be the good and right.
Those things are there in each of our lives. We are tempted and too often we fall for the things the world offers us. Can you identify? Can you relate? If you’re having trouble pinpointing some area in your life that could improve, pray about it. I suspect God will work with you and point out that area that is dark, that area where the light of Christ needs to shine.
If we deny that this is real, then is there really any need for Easter? If we deny that this is real, was there any need for Christ to come at Christmas? If we deny that this is real, then where will the season of Lent lead us? If we deny that this is real, will we celebrate in the resurrection on Easter Day?
Confronted with this reality, we are not left without hope. Just as our shortcomings are real, so is forgiveness.I heard someone say this week that before they could forgive and forget, they had to acknowledge and accept. Acknowledge and accept that the wrong was done. In other words, we have to be real about our situation. Honest with ourselves and with God.
Adam and Eve and that crafty serpent have put our own reality before us. And in doing so we are moved towards hope and reconciliation. We are moved towards living a life of victory. We are moved towards Easter.
I John 1:8-9 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The psalmist knew this to be true before the words by the writer of I John were penned. We have already responded today with those words of that Psalm that heal us and reconcile us to God and to each other. We are moving towards Easter!
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!
Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long.
For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
And so we pray, Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11