OT Lectionary June 7th Trinity 1 Genesis 3:8-15

Regular thoughts on the oft-neglected Old Testament Lectionary passages

Now that we’re in ordinary time I face a choice over whether to comment each week on the related or continuous strands of the OT lectionary. I’ve plumped for the related stream, simply because it will be more interesting for me, but if I were you I’d scrap the lectionary altogether and preach on what your church needs to hear at this particular time in its history, which of course you can do legally for several months. My How to Preach Strategically[1] can help you with this.

Anyway, for those determined to go on, here’s some thoughts on Genesis 3, the so-called story of the Fall. Our compilers miss out the slightly weird snakey stuff at the beginning, and cut to the chase of the consequences of this event. Our first question, though, is about the degree to which the term ‘Fall’ is a good one. We talk about ‘falling from grace’ and ‘falling into sin’, but I remember hearing one lecture in which it was suggested that a better terms was ‘the rupture’, which is less about tumbling from an exalted position and more about breaking out of proscribed boundaries in our search for something new and better. It is human nature to focus immediately on the one tree which was out of bounds and ignore the other however-many which were OK. But this bursting of boundaries continually goes on around us. We have recently done it to marriage in Britain, for example. I find it a much more helpful way of thinking than falling, and the more I think about it, the more I can see its insidious power, and the more I can see it in my own life.

Hugo van der Goes - The Fall of Man and The Lamentation - Google Art Project.jpg

So what are the consequences of this rupture? One way of looking at it is to see harmony replaced with separation, conflict and enmity. So we see separation between Adam and Eve and God in v 8. Previously they communed: now they hide. There is separation too between Adam and Eve, as blame enters the world in v 12, and equality is replaced by submission (v 16). At a deeper level humans become separated from themselves as they first begin to experience shame: unhappiness with who they are, as symbolised here by the sudden awareness of nakedness. There is a brief interlude for a couple of ‘Just So’ stories explaining why snakes have no legs and why childbirth hurts, but then we see separation and hostility between humans and the created world, as their bursting of the boundaries affects the rest of the created order, and the land itself. There is even separation from life itself, as a few chapters later God curbs human immortality and limits his life, an act of mercy actually.

Bursting, therefore, matters. To us as individuals, to our relationships, to our society, and even to the very land in which we live. Nowadays medical hernias are pretty easy to repair, apparently. But with this rupture, as in the very different story of Pandora’s Box, it is almost impossible to rewind and go back to how things were. That is why the grand sweep of Scripture is less about healing than it is about re-creation, less about life-support and more about death and resurrection. As the story begins here with the rupture, so it ends with a brand new heavens and earth, and a new paradise, free from blame, shame and pain. We are part of this story, disobedient but learning, on the way to re-creation but still broken. Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Cambridge: Grove W211, 2012

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