|26 - Adam's Expulsion From Paradise, March 1, 2009|
Every religion is like a map that claims to show you the road that will get you to the soul’s true home with God. Christ’s Holy Church warns us to test the spirits to see if they are from the one, true God because there are many false spirits and many false prophets, many false preachers, many false teachings and doctrines that have gone forth into the world from the lying and murderous prince of this world, whose worldly rulers crucified the Lord of glory. If we believe that Christ alone is the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except by him, then we will study carefully the map that he draws for us in his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we may be sure to follow him and not someone else who claims to speak for him, or even to be him.
The map of the Orthodox Church that shows the Way of Christ that leads to the Father is unfolded and set before us this morning on the Eve of Great Lent. Today, we commemorate the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. That tells us that the Garden of Eden is our home, and that Great Lent is the path that leads back to it. If we read this as a map, then obviously, we do not read the bible literally. We read it theologically, i.e. from the perspective of God the Word incarnate who by his Incarnation, his death and resurrection has opened every moment of space-time onto the Kingdom of God. To read the bible theologically, or from the perspective of God the Word, means we read it under the direction of the Church, the body of Christ. So, let’s look closely at the map the Church sets before us to mark the Way that leads to the Garden, and what it’s telling us about the Garden.
St John tells us that “in the place where he was crucified there was a Garden, and in the Garden a tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” If this is the Garden where Jesus was crucified, then it is where the Cross was set up; and the Cross is identified by the Church as the Tree of Life. Are we to understand that the Garden where Jesus was crucified and buried is the Garden of Eden? If it is, then the Garden has become filled with death. The world that God created “good” has been swallowed by the serpent so that every good thing God made ends in the evil of death.
It says that after he made the world, God planted the Garden of Eden that was open to the East. This brings to my mind an image of the world like a house whose eastern wall opens onto the sky, and there where the house opens to the East, God plants his Garden, and he puts Adam in the Garden, in order, so it says, to tend and to keep it. Towards what end? Apparently, the creation wasn’t finished; and indeed, it says in Genesis, that “God blessed the Sabbath (Saturday) because in it he rested from all his works that he began to make.” So what was needed to complete the creation? Obviously, Adam was needed; God placed him in the Garden to tend it and to keep it toward the end that Adam would finish the creation. But what was the work that Adam was supposed to do to complete the creation? Why was his work so needed?
The work that was so needed is shown quite clearly in the OT to be the work of obeying the commandments of God in order to learn to love God; as for example, when God says to Israel in Deuteronomy: “Walk in all the ways the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you in the land which I give you to possess. These words I command you: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.”
The land God gives Israel to possess, of course, is Canaan, which was toward the East, like Eden was. The East is where the sun rises, and so Canaan and Eden are prophetic symbols for the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the life of God. God is love; and so the resurrection is the life of the love of God. The Tree of Life in the Garden is the Cross; the fruit of that tree is Christ, who is the Love of God. God made the world in love; he made it in Christ. His purpose was that Adam would become a partaker, a lover of his own divine nature in Christ. But love is not complete until the beloved returns that love. And so, for creation to be complete, it needed the work of Adam, which was to obey God’s command to eat from the Tree of Life so he could learn to love God and become a partaker of the divine nature in the love of God. Then, Adam would be taken up into God in the east, in the resurrection, where his heart opens like a gate beyond himself and onto God to become one with God in love. Then, creation would realize the purpose for which God created her and be completed.
But Adam disobeyed God when he spurned the Tree of Life. He obeyed the serpent and partook of the serpent’s tree and learned to love the life of the serpent, which is centered on death and fragmentation, and not on the life of God centered on resurrection in the communion of love. Adam failed to “test the spirits” to see if they were from God. Down through the ages, his progeny have been listening to the many false prophets, preachers and teachers who have gone forth into the world from the serpent’s tree, all claiming to hold the fruit of knowledge and life, but all speaking the same words as him whom the Savior called a liar and a murderer from the beginning. So Adam and his progeny have been expelled from the Garden. We turned away from the east that opens to God and we went down to the west into the lair of the serpent, and we died. Our hearts became a tomb filled with death. That place in our heart that opens to God in the east was closed off from the stony hardness of our sins and transgressions, and we became blind and altogether ignorant of God.
And so there was no Adam anymore in the Garden to tend it or to keep it, until the Word of God himself came down from heaven and clothed himself in our human nature to become the Second Adam. He was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. He ascended the Cross on Great and Holy Friday, the Sixth Day of the week and he finished the creation by giving his love as Adam to the Father. He was laid in the tomb of our heart where no one had been laid before, because no one had been obedient in love to the Father to the point of death on the cross.
The tomb of Christ is where the Church brought us in our Scripture reading on Thursday. We saw the myrrh-bearing women standing before the tomb and seeing how Christ was buried. And that’s where the Church brings us at Vespers this afternoon, when the royal doors are closed and the curtains drawn and Great Lent begins. We will be standing outside the sanctuary like the myrrh-bearing women standing outside the tomb and seeing it closed off by the stone. Here, at the beginning of Great Lent, the Church has already brought us to the destination of our Lenten Journey. It’s our heart that has become the tomb. With the myrrh-bearing women, we see Christ laid in the tomb of our heart, but we also see that our heart has been closed off by a heavy stone, and we cannot get inside to tend to Christ who is buried there. The stone is too heavy for us.
The women then returned to their home, Thursday’s Gospel said, to prepare spices and myrrh. This is the work that Adam was called to do: to love Christ, the fruit of the Tree of Life, with his whole heart, so that he could partake of him and become one with him in a personal communion of love and so complete God’s creation. That work has now been completed by Christ, the Second Adam; and we are called to unite ourselves to the New Adam that we might participate in his work of re-creating us on his Cross on Great and Holy Friday, and go with him into the New Creation that he has finished, when he goes forth from the tomb like a Bridegroom in procession and ascends to God in the east. To unite ourselves to Christ, we must die with him. And that is the work of Great Lent given us to do. At its heart, dying with Christ is crucifying our love for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life by taking up our cross and following Christ. It is the work of repentance, of learning to listen to the voice of God that speaks to us in his body, the Church through her Scriptures, her prayers and her doctrines and no more to false preachers and teachers. We do this Lenten work through prayer and fasting and practicing charity, i.e. by obeying Christ’s commandment not to eat from the serpent’s tree that we might learn to love God with all our heart and partake of the fruit of his Cross, the Tree of Life.
For six weeks we will be descending beneath the ordinary movement of time and into the Sixth Day of Creation, Great and Holy Friday, to submit ourselves to Christ through the Lenten disciplines of the Church, that from his Cross he might refashion us in his own image and likeness. We will come back to the myrrh-bearing women and pick up their story on Pascha night, when we read the account of how they came to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week – Sunday morning. They will discover as they draw near, that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. They will enter the tomb and discover it empty, for Christ will have gone before them into Galilee in his holy Resurrection. This tells us the purpose of our Lenten journey. It’s to come on Pascha night to the Church as to the tomb of our heart on the Last Day, to discover that the stone has been rolled away; that our heart is open to us, no longer a tomb but a bridal chamber; and that it is empty because Christ has gone forth like a bridegroom in procession into the New Creation that he has now finished.
This, then, is our Lenten journey according to the map of the Church. Listening in repentance to the voice of the Church, we follow the road that takes us into our hearts and beyond, through the gate that opens onto the East and into the resurrection of Christ, to make us partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal in the never-ending Day of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.