Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Here, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, the lectionary gives us readings on sin, temptation, and the human inability to “get it right.” Later, when Paul will remind us how all have sinned and fallen short, we will look back to these readings. This is where it all begins.
What is it about the human condition that is so beautiful, and so flawed? To be able to walk and talk with God, to work the garden and take care of it, to rejoice in one another – this sounds idyllic. Life created never to end, but always to rejoice in one another.
Looking back, after a seeming eternity of war and strife, sin creeping in seems inevitable. But it wasn’t. God created the possibility of disobedience, but only the possibility. Humankind’s first true act of creation was to sin.
To the ancient world a serpent was a sign of wisdom, and even immortality. Satan, wearing that disguise, offered those gifts to Eve. Perhaps she was weak because she hadn’t received the injunction directly from God (in this second creation story Eve isn’t created until after God has commanded Adam not to eat from the tree). I cannot say why, all I know is that instead of looking to God for wisdom and eternal life she tried to take those gifts for herself. Adam, with apparently very little encouragement, followed her example.
Things kind of went downhill from there.
Perhaps what is most interesting to me, and can be developed through preaching on these texts, is the idea of covering up. Nakedness isn’t at all sinful. It should be enjoyed and celebrated, as we live in the bodies God gives and sustains. Yet I would wager that nearly all of us have secret shames of our bodies. To be naked doesn’t feel like a celebration, it feels vulnerable, exposed, and shameful. We feel, well…. naked.
The first bit of new knowledge Adam and Eve seem to experience is the conviction of wrongdoing. Whatever knowledge they did gain, a guilty conscience came with it. Their rebellion may have seemed to be innocent self-interest, but now that it is accomplished it is also revealed for what it is, sin.
Sin, what was once only a possibility, has now become an actuality. Fig leaves can barely cover naked flesh, they certainly cannot cover sin, hurt, and shame. Adam and Eve do not immediately experience a physical death, but they do experience a spiritual distance from God. The God who was so intimate now seems distant from them.
But God comes, and God calls. Even in their sin, even in ours, God is calling to us and seeking us out.
“Blessed is he who’s sins are covered” declares the Psalmist. Psalm 32 is appropriate today because is acknowledges sin, is moves us through confession, forgiveness, and on to amendment of life (v.5.) In our secret shames and sorrows God is our hiding place (v.7.)
There are penalties for sin, prison is certainly one. All of us in prison experience the great pain and loneliness that distance from our loves ones brings. But this is only a physical example of the spiritual distance sin put between us and God. A penalty paid for only by Christ. As sin came through Adam and Eve, so too does life come through Christ. Paul’s letter to the Romans proudly proclaims that where our sin has abounded, grace abounds more so. The grace that reigns through Christ covers our sins. We aren’t depending on fig leaves any more!
But why does this matter at the beginning of Lent? It matters because we are remembering our sinfulness. We are remembering our fallen nature. We are remembering that this flesh, and all the worldly things we covet, will die. Only in Christ is there life. Lent is indeed a time of sorrowful repentence, but also a time of great joy because God fills us with Grace and love. Lent is a reminder of all that God has, is, and will do; it is a reminder of our dependence upon God.
Jesus was tempted. There is no sin in temptation. Jesus could have sinned, it was a possibility. But unlike our first parents what was a possibility never became an actuality. Jesus’ acts of creation were ones of healing, restoration, forgiveness, and love. We fast, pray, and study; we give alms, and give of ourselves. We are taming our temptations, and taking control of our hungers. We are reminding ourselves that nothing of this world is truly ours, and that love and compassion illuminate our inner life. It is difficult, for we are all to human. But what we cannot do alone, God can accomplish through us. Where Adam and Eve took that gift for themselves, we give it back to God.
What does God give us? Everything. It is why we fast, but do not despair; why we confess and repent, but always rejoice.
With the penalty for our sins paid for in the blood of Christ, we can stand before the throne. Naked, unadorned and unafraid, we stand clothed in the Grace of God and living the new life of The Resurrection.
And that is what our Lenten journey is all about.