25 - Expulsion from Paradise, Mar 2,2014

Romans 13:11 – 14:4

Matthew 6: 14-21

This morning, we get set to break camp. The doors of Great Lent are opening. Led by the Spirit, we will pass over into the spiritual arena of Lent as into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil; or rather, to take up our Cross and unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and to triumph over the devil in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection.

It says in Genesis that God made man from the dust of the ground. He then took the man He had made and set him in Paradise in order to work itand to keep it. (Gen 2:15) From other biblical passages, I believe that Adam was to keep obedience to the LORD; his work was to produce fruit from the Garden, viz., the fruits of the Spirit, and offer it to the LORD in Thanksgiving, in Holy Eucharist. Thereby, the ground would be blessed and he would become a partaker of the divine nature, he would be “glorified” or “deified” or “sanctified” in union with God.

We know that man did not keep obedience, nor did he bring forth fruits of the Spirit. Instead, because of his disobedience, the ground brought forth thorns and thistles, i.e., prickly plants, sins and trespasses of all kinds. He was then expelled from the Garden to return to the dust of the ground from which the LORD had taken him.

Liturgical imagery shows us the spiritual meaning of Adam and Eve in Paradise. The Garden of Eden is the Kingdom of Heaven that is “in the East” (Gen 2:8); i.e., in the LORD’s Resurrection. The LORD tells us: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” (Lk 17:21) The Garden of Eden is within you. How, then, do we get there?

Before expelling them from the Garden, the LORD gave Adam and Eve another set of commandments. Eve was commanded to bring forth children in pain. Her place of refuge, or escape, the LORD tells her, (apostrofh in the Greek LXX) would be her husband, and he was to exercise lordship over her. On the spiritual level, this commandment means that we may still bring forth fruit from the Garden, the fruits of the spirit, but only by taking up the pain of denying ourselves for the sake of our Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, the New Adam and finding our refuge in His lordship over us, which He exercised by emptying Himself even to the point of death on the Cross for our salvation in His great love for us.

To Adam, the LORD gave the command to eat from the ground in pain and sorrow all the days of his life. In the sweat of his brow, i.e., in the sweat that comes from the hard work of repentance, he would eat his bread, until he returned to the ground; for he came from the dust, and to the dust he would depart.

Now, here is a most interesting note that would also seem very significant: the word in the Greek Septuagint translated as Adam “returning” to the ground has as one of its secondary meanings, “to escape from”, “to flee”, “to get away from”. It is the same word used of Eve, which I translated as finding her “refuge” or “escape” in her husband. In the one passage, the word is a verbal; in the other, it’s a noun. I take it to mean that Adam would find his refuge from the thorns and thistles of his sins and transgressions only in the sweat, the hard work of his repentance by which he would return to the dust he came from; i.e., in death. But, what does that mean?

Now, to the serpent, the LORD said that it would be at enmity with the seed of Eve. The seed of Eve! The woman does not have seed; the man does! The woman receives the seed. What is this but a prophecy of the Theotokos – we call her the New Eve – and the Son born of her who is not the seed of man but the Seed of God. Of this Son, this seed of Eve, the LORD says to the serpent: you will bite His heel, but He will crush your head. What is this but a prophecy of the LORD’s Holy Pascha? The serpent bites Him on His heel in His death on the Cross, His death on the tree. But the serpent is biting Him on the heel as He is crushing the head of the serpent. By His death on the Cross, He destroys him who had the power of death, the devil. (Heb 2:14) It is a prophecy of Christ’s Holy Pascha. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

What sounds like God cursing Adam and Eve when read outside of the mystery of Christ, is revealed as a prophecy of the greatest hope when read within the mystery of Christ. The death in which Adam would find His escape would be the death of the LORD in whom Eve would find her escape. It is a prophecy of the LORD's Pascha, and the way back to Eden.

We will stand before the sanctuary, the Royal Doors closed, this afternoon at the Vespers of Forgiveness like the myrrhbearing women standing before the tomb where the LORD was buried, sealed off by the stone. (Lk 23:55) Great Lent will begin, and we will leave the Church to begin the Great Fast, like the myrrhbearing women returning home to prepare spices and ointments. (Lk 23:56) In this liturgical imagery, we see that the sanctuary is the tomb of the LORD; but, the sanctuary is also the top of the mountain in the Garden of Eden where the Tree of Life was planted.

Now, it says that the tomb in which the LORD was buried was in a garden very near the place where He was crucified. He was buried in a worldly garden. It became the Garden of His Resurrection: i.e., the Garden of Eden that “was in the East”— “in the Resurrection”.

Do you see? Eden has been opened again – in the cave of Bethlehem, in the waters of the Jordan, in the tomb of Christ, in the tomb of our heart that opens onto the Kingdom of Heaven within us. To return to Eden, we must unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and, as St Gregory of Nazianzus says, be buried with Him in the tomb of our heart.

This is why we take up the Great Fast: to deny ourselves, to lose our life for the sake of Christ, to crucify the old man in us, to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, so that we may return to the ground in Christ and be raised with Him in His Holy Resurrection. This is how we pass over into Eden and into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, in our heart.

This is to say that repentance is work, hard work: the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, says the LORD; the violence of the Cross, not by laziness and indulgence. We begin Great Lent with the rite of reconciliation, the rite of mutual forgiveness. Our sin has separated us from each other and from God. We have been cast out of Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, and so we have become strangers even to ourselves. We don’t know who we are. The deadly wound that we have inflicted on ourselves and each other by our sin cannot be healed by words only. It requires work, the work of repentance. To be restored to life through divine forgiveness, we must take up our Cross, the ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting, acts of mercy, confession of sins, and follow Christ back to the dust of the ground and take refuge in His death. The rite of forgiveness that we will observe at the end of Vespers today must be the ritual expression of our repentance and its work. To go through the rite of forgiveness without taking up the Lenten disciplines is like looking into the gates of Great Lent onto the Path that leads to the Resurrection and into the Garden of Eden, and then pulling out lawn chairs and sitting down and having a beer – with brats and cheese! We remain outside the gates of Eden, outside the resurrection, outside of God’s forgiveness, and our soul remains unhealed.

Perhaps this is why the Lenten texts for today identify the treasure of this morning’s Gospel with the ascetic discipline of the Great Fast. That means that the treasure is the Cross' and if that is the treasure of our heart, then our heart is taking her refuge in the death of her LORD. For it is through the Fast, which we take up as our Cross, that we make our way to the dust of the ground to be united with Christ in the likeness of His death, in the tomb of our heart; and that is how we pass over into the joy of the LORD’s Resurrection in the Garden of Eden! Amen!