The parish church of Holy Trinity, Town Quay, in Weymouth, is, or certainly was a few years ago, famed for its huge posters displaying, right next to the main West Doors, provocative or humorous Christian slogans. One of the ones that I remember from a few years ago, and displayed during Lent, read:
It wasn’t the apple that caused the world’s problems. It was the ‘pear’ underneath.
Groan inducing certainly, but memorable also. It’s interesting that we hear the account of the fall of Adam and Eve from the state of grace in the Garden of Eden on this, the first Sunday of Lent. The next time we hear it read aloud in worship is in the darkness before the dawn on Easter morning. There are a set of readings that the church traditionally hears in the darkness between Holy Saturday and Easter dawn, and we maintain that practice here: be in the chapter house at four on Easter morning to hear them! The first reading is always the account of creation from Genesis chapter 1, the second reading is that of the Fall. And that 45 minutes service, attended by very few people but vitally important to the shape of Holy Week, is in a sense the whole of Lent condensed into less than an hour. We begin Lent by facing up to the reality of who we are, and the reality of who we are is what the author of the first few chapters of Genesis is trying to explain.
I don’t recommend that you read, or hear, the beginning part of the book of Genesis as history. I recommend that you treat it as myth, allegory, a set of pictures and theological statements that goes some way to explaining why the world is as we find it, and why we are as we are. So we have, sequentially, pictures of the creation of the world, the committal of the first murder, the story of God’s attitude to the corruption of society, an explanation for why there are multiple languages, and so on. And tucked in at the beginning, just after two stories describing the creation of the world is the passage we heard this evening: the passage referred to by the tradition as the Fall.
As we begin Lent we recognise the reality that human beings are not what God would have us be. And actually, human beings are not what we would have us be either. There is a discontinuity between the image of perfection held up in Genesis chapters one and two, and the reality. And you and I can tell, in our bones, that we are really not as good as we ought to be either.
The beginning of Lent is all about getting to the point of being able to recognise that, about ourselves and about the various communities which we inhabit also, from the smallest family unit, all the way up to the international community. And the story of the serpent and the garden and fruit (interestingly, never called an apple in Scripture) is an allegorical way of recognising that there is a discontinuity between the hope and the reality, between God’s “very good” creation, and the way in which we have subsequently husbanded and stewarded it.
And that fruit represents the things to which we cling, to which we grasp, unwilling to let go and allow ourselves instead to be led by God. Lent is a time to do our best to recognise those things, to unlatch our grasp from around them, to reach out our hand instead to touch the face of God.