In Christ ‘me’ dies – what’s reborn is ‘us’!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 10 June 2018
May and June are the loveliest months of the year in England! The greenness of the grass, the candles on the horse chestnut trees, the blue skies when they come and the freshness of the air all contribute to such a wonderful sense of the vibrancy of life.
Some years ago when Sarah and I were trekking in the Sinai peninsula, much of the landscape is rugged and bare as you would expect but on occasions we came across little Bedouin gardens where there was a water supply – and there the ground was tended, the water used to irrigate, and fruit trees grew. Again there was such a welcome sense of refreshment in nature, particularly sweet, surrounded as it was by barren landscape. Of course the sun was fierce so you looked for shade – that is until the time of the welcome evening breeze!
The story of the Garden of Eden reflects something of these experiences of deep contentment in and with nature. The man and the woman are initially not concerned to hide their nakedness from each other or from God. The poetic portrayal is wonderful in its description of the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. Only of course where our extract this morning picks up the story, the apple has been eaten and as a consequence the man and the woman know that they’re naked.
They’ve sewn fig leaves and made loincloths for themselves to hide their nakedness from each other and from God.
What’s so interesting is the inner meaning of this evocative story. We move from an idyllic communal scene of a man, a woman and God in harmony with each other and nature; through an encounter with a serpent in which seeds of mistrust, disobedience and shame are sown; on to expulsion from the garden, rivalry and the first murder taking place of Abel by his brother Cain.
It’s a profound understanding of humanity with many layers and possible interpretations, just as you would expect from such a rich, ancient story.
There’s one thought I see expressed here which I want to dwell on today, which is this: before the Fall the picture is about ‘us’. There’s no shame and no rivalry. Yes there’s difference in that there is a man and a woman and they’re quite separate from God, but nakedness is not an issue, either between the man and the woman or between them and God. Transparency and openness prevail. It’s very definitely about ‘us’ – and it’s OK.
After the Fall the picture is about ‘me’. As we heard, hiding begins, hiding from each other, hence the fig leaves, and hiding from God, hence the use of the trees in the garden.
Then the woman and the man become defensive, blaming the other until they run out of options and blame the serpent!
The rivalry deepens and becomes violent with Cain murdering his brother Abel. ‘Us’ disappears and is replaced with ‘me’. ‘Looking after Number 1’ now becomes the priority.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when we see examples of thisall around us. Nor should we be surprised when we hear ourselves giving voice to these thoughts too. None of us are immune from this deeply self-centred mindset. These ancient stories in the Bible are there to remind us that this is how we are as human beings, this is how we tend to be – ‘Looking after Number 1’ – and it’s not OK.
One of the things the Christian faith suggests is that in Christ this journey from ‘us’ to ‘me’ is fundamentally reversed.
Listen to what Saint Paul wrote in today’s epistle:
‘We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will
raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into
his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that
grace, as it extends to more and more people, may
increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.’
The resurrection of Christ establishes a new community in which we are raised with Christ and brought, with each other, into God’s presence.
The move from ‘me’ to ‘us’ has begun.
So perhaps with this in mind we can hear again Jesus’ response to his mother and his brothers in today’s gospel. They’ve come to restrain Jesus! Why we’re not sure. Were they concerned for his welfare? Or were they concerned that dishonour might be brought on the family? We don’t know. But what we do know is that families, bound together by ties of blood, can be every bit as exclusive as the ‘me’ we’ve been thinking about.
Jesus’ reply is unequivocal:
‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the
will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
Doing the Father’s will is not possible if you have the mindset of ‘me’, whether that mindset is as an individual or as a family.
Jesus shows us this is in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus throws himself on the ground and prays for the hour to pass from him:
‘Remove this cup from me,’ he prays to his Father,
‘yet, not what I want, but what you want.’
This letting go of ‘me’ by Christ, in the garden and even more so on the cross, is so profound that history is changed. We’re turned round and set on a path away from ‘me’ and towards ‘us’.
In Christ ‘me’ dies – what’s reborn is ‘us’!