By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures is one of our origin myths that seeks to explain the beginning of creation. We hear just a small portion of the story today; picture it: The newly created Garden of Eden, beautiful beyond measure, with abundant fruit and life. Wild animals, a man, a woman, and God all dwell there harmoniously. God commands the man:“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Genesis 2:16-17).”
After an encounter with the snake, the woman decides to eat from the tree, followed by the man. And “...the eyes of both were opened” (Genesis 3:7). In return, the serpent, man, and woman were punished. The serpent was condemned to crawl on its belly. The man and the woman were banished from the garden and condemned to a life of pain and hard work.
No matter how many times we have heard this story, it leaves us with too many unanswered questions (Kushner 18-19):
Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book How Good Do We Have to Be? offers an alternative ending to this story that offers some insight into these questions. He writes: “So the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and a delight to the eye, and the serpent said to her, “Eat of it, for when you eat of it, you will be as wise as God.” But the woman said, “No, God has commanded us not to eat of it, and I will not disobey God.” And God called to the man and the woman and said to them, “Because you have hearkened to My word and not disobeyed My command, I shall reward you greatly.” To the man, He said, “You will never have to work again. Spend all your days in idle contentment, with food growing all around you.” To the woman, He said, “You will bear children without pain and you will raise them without pain. They will need nothing from you. Children will not cry when their parents die, and parents will not cry when their children die.” To both of them, He said, “For the rest of your lives, you will have full bellies and contented smiles. You will never cry and you will never laugh. You will never long for something you don’t have, and you will never receive something you always wanted.” And the man and the woman grew old together in the garden, eating daily from the Tree of Life and having many children. And the grass grew high around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it” (32-33).
What kind of world would that be? A world without labor and toil? Without the feeling of reward and accomplishment when we have completed a difficult task or season in our lives? A world where children do not need their parents? Not for their mother’s milk, nor their affection or love, nor their guidance and wisdom. A world where we raise up children without pain? A world where parents are not constantly having to let go of their control and voice in their children’s lives as they grow into adults? A world where we do not have to trust that our children will be okay, because it won’t really matter to us one way or another?
Honestly, that sounds more like hell than anything I else I could imagine. Particularly after knowing what good and evil are, after experiencing the fruit of our labor, after experiencing the depth of human love possible in the bond between parents and children. This does not mean life is easy. It is absolutely anything but easy. There is more pain than we might ever want to imagine in knowing about good and evil. But because the man and woman ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, our lives have meaning and purpose in a way that would not ever have been possible otherwise. Our lives can know the transformational experience of being loved and loving others in return.
The story of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden is not a story about how we ruined everything, it is a story about the richness of a life that can contain both pain and a joy that is beyond measure. As we make our pilgrimage through Lent, and as we grapple with the difficult parts of our lives, remember this story, our story. It is in our story that we remember our darkest nights and most painful days are not a punishment, nor are they wasted on us. Instead they are a part of a life that knows both good and evil. A life where we may experience sacrifice and suffering, but what we receive in return makes every moment of this life worth it.
I think we can remember this truth as our parish prepares to use our voice to consider affirming the merger with St. Andrew’s. And to be painfully clear, this merger is not a simple business model. The model the Steering Committee and I have lifted up is not proportional, where 2 + 1=3, instead it is 2+1=6. Because we are not simply ‘letting in’ St. Andrew’s, or ‘making room’ for them. We are not a bank. We are a movement of people who follow Jesus Christ in the Episcopal way.
The merger proposed for us is a merger based on the Gospel, based of the radical welcome we proclaim at the table each week saying All are welcome here. No matter how good or evil any of us have been on any given week.Where we recognize that we can grow exponentially if we make some sacrifices too, if we go into this merger with our eyes on Christ’s radical hospitality. The merger we are asking you to affirm is a merger where St. James & St. Andrew’s, however big or small we were separately, will become one new parish that will be stronger, healthier, and better than we could ever been without one another.
Just like God loves Adam & Eve beyond measure, and offers a rich life beyond the Garden of Eden full of both sacrifice and joy, I believe God is offering us a chance at a richer life than we could have ever experienced on our own, or if we simply ‘let St. Andrew’s in’. We are becoming one.God is giving us the chance to follow Him into a whole new era for the Episcopal Church in Franklin County. Amen.
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