the First Sunday in Lent
March 1st, 2020
Today’s readings are:
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here to see these readings.
We start off Lent in the garden. It is, I suppose, a good place to start. It is here in the garden, the Bible tells us, that our sins began. It is one of our founding stories. It’s one that, I think, we all learned from story-book Bibles and Sunday school lessons as children. This story is foundational to the Bible (it’s at the beginning), and foundational to how Jesus teaches us and what he teaches us, as well as how St. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament letters discuss our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. This story is at the heart of why we need to be reconciled, why we need penitence and a Holy Lent, and indeed why we need, so desperately need, the love of Jesus Christ.
And for these reasons, I want to call this story an important part of our Christian myth – but I’ve gotta pause here on this word: myth. It’s a sticky word. Often, we use the word “myth” to describe a story that is false: 10 myths about weight loss! a commercial tells us to lure us in. Or, myths can be old stories about heroes and monsters and Greek gods with lightning bolts in their hands and little winged sandals on their feet. But even here, we all in our modern period don’t believe these kinds of myths. They’re fun stories that we believe are false. Myths are, in other words, lies. Lies that can be damaging, or lies that can be fun, but lies nevertheless.
But this is a poor understanding of “myth.” People in the past, be they Romans or Greeks or Celts, surely didn’t think their stories were just little old myths that were just around for a good story. No, they believed them, and in many ways they based their lives, and the lives of their entire communities, on what they heard in their myths. You see, myths are foundational stories, they’re beginning stories. They’re stories that we tell about how things came to be the way they are, to explain where we came from, who we are, and where we are going. And in this they are desperately important to know, to understand, and to think about often. To return to our source. And so, as we turn in Lent to reflect on our relationship with God, we begin this first Sunday of Lent at the beginning.
Now, before I move on to talk about this foundational story of ours, and how we can live into that foundational story to know more about what Jesus gives us, there’s a lie that is usually bandied about that I’ve gotta quell. Some folks, when they read this story, say that it is Eve’s fault that Adam sinned, that if Eve weren’t around, then Adam wouldn’t have eaten the apple. And, often, folks then take this and lay the blame of sin on all women in general. This is absurd. Pointing fingers at one another is a mark of our sinful nature: it’s what Adam and Eve do to one another after, not before, they eat the fruit. And if there is blame, we read in Romans this morning that St. Paul puts it on Adam. So if you ever hear this interpretation, squash it. It’s unbiblical.
But this sort of interpretation directs us to a reality that we are still struggling with: we’re living in a sinful world. We are sinful people. And that’s tough to think about. We don’t want to think about how we’re sinful. We want to look on the bright side of life. We want to think the best of us and of other people. We’re told to forgive those who trespass against us, so shouldn’t we also forgive ourselves?
Sure, but even so, there is something not right about our hearts. At times, we have to do a great deal of work to get ourselves to see the humanity in others. There is something inside of ourselves that, no matter how much we work to correct it, always sneaks back up again. As a young man, I had a short fuse, and I’ve done a lot of work to calm myself down when I feel it flaring up. But goodness gracious, if you cut me off when I’ve got my kids in the car then my anger is right there again, fresh and new. We humans have a penchant for selfishness, for forgetting others and thinking of ourselves alone. The seven deadly sins, those mythical seven deadly sins – pride, lust, gluttony, envy sloth, wrath, greed – they’re basically that sinful part of us saying me me me and forgetting about you you and you, much less God, God, and God.
But, here is another false interpretation that many make: some look at our sin and say that we are horrible through and through, right to the core, that there is no good in us. Yet, while we humans may have a penchant for human sin, we are not utterly debased. There is good in us, because God is in us. We are made in the image of God, and while that image can be overshadowed, or forgotten, or misunderstood because of sin, that image is there down at the foundation of who we are. We are, at our heart of hearts, beloved children of God. To borrow a phrase from a popular sci-fi film, we are luminous beings. Our identity, who we are, is simply those who are beloved, precious, and dear to God. That is who we really are. That is who, after the long Lent of life in this world, we hope to become in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But sin is real. Sin isn’t something that we can just take off when it’s hot like it’s a jacket. Sin isn’t just some tomato sauce that splashes on our shirt that, if you pour detergent on it and get it into the wash, there won’t be a stain. And it is, alas, not just some bad political structure that, if we just make the right laws, we can get away from. No, sin is real and it is lodged deep in our hearts. We don’t have a tool fine enough to get it out. No amount of work, no long hours kneeling, no journey to some far, distant holy place can root it out and make us clean again. Only one thing, we believe, can make us clean, and that is the love of Jesus Christ, open and free for all.
And so, as we begin Lent, we look to who we were and we turn to who we can become, who is the person we are truly meant to be. We look with St. Paul, and at the urging of Jesus Christ himself, at the beginning of sin, when that root of sin was first planted, and we turn to the essence of love that is the transfigured face of that same Jesus Christ. Let us put, then, to rest the sin that is in us, and let us turn now to the life that is being held out to us with eager hands. For Jesus says, Take, eat. This is my Body, given for you!