A Garden, a Man, a Woman, a Villain, an Angel, and God

Jan 17, 2021
Genesis 2-3 selected verses

There’s a Garden, a Man, a Woman, a Villain, an Angel, and God. At least 4 times in the Bible, we are given a story with these characters. Today’s reading is only the first one. 

In today’s reading the garden is provided by God and it in turn provides for human life. All that is needed God’s hand has provided there. In the garden God puts the man, Adam, which really means human, a play on words with the hebrew word for dirt, dust, soil, since he was formed from the dust of the earth. God decides the human needs a shared helper and partner in order to bear fruit and multiply and so, from the human, God forms Eve, or the woman. Eve literally means living, so together they are human living, human life. 

Adam & Eve & the Serpent – Facade of I Yesus Church – Axum (Aksum) – Ethiopia

But, in the garden there’s a villain, referred to only as the serpent, the snake, a primal, un-evolved creature, yet more cunning than newborn Adam and Eve. The serpent is the one who questions God and sews doubt, and he tempts human life with a forbidden fruit. Immediately the temptation is too strong. Adam and Eve eat the fruit. They partake of what is not theirs. The serpent’s temptation is to take power, the power of God, into their own hands so they can be like God. They take and eat, and it proves a bite that’s more than they can chew. 

At the time of the evening stroll, God comes looking for them and finds them naked and afraid. This is new. This was not the plan. Their trust, their innocence, their human life with God is broken and they’re sent outside the garden, and an angel is put there to guard the garden gate, lest they re-enter, eat from the tree of life, and live eternally in this broken state. 

It’s interesting, God had said if they ate that fruit they’d be doomed to die. That may be so, but at least for now, by sending them out God has preserved their life. 

There’s a Garden, a Man, a Woman, a Villain, an Angel, and God. That’s story number one. 

Now, let’s take a time warp forward thousands of years, or maybe just back a few weeks. Ponder Christmas with me, the birth of Christ. That’s story number 2. 

There’s no garden, no, but there is a stable. 

Glory to the Newborn King, author unknonw

This moment captured in the nativity scenes you may have just packed up for the year, there are always animals in it aren’t there? It’s no garden, but it is clearly in the midst of and with all of creation that Christmas happens. 

And there is a woman. Her name is Mary. Mary means both beloved and rebellious. How like Eve, rebellious and yet beloved. Mary too was presented with an opportunity, this time not from a snake. It was an angel. It was not temptation to sin it was the opposite: an invitation to surrender to the will of God. Like Eve, Mary said yes; but Mary’s yes was different from Eve’s. Mary was a student of Genesis. She knew Eve’s story. She learned it as a child. So, Mary whispering her words of wisdom, “Let it be with me according to your Word.” 

So there’s a garden, kind of. And a woman. And an angel, and a m… Well, actually there is no man. Sure, there are the shepherds, the kings, Joseph, but none of them have a role in the actual thing that is happening. They are all bystanders. The angels announce the news to them, but they’re kept at bay. In the Genesis story the man comes first, and when there’s a problem he blames the woman. At Christmas all the men, all the sons of Adam, have been relegated to the margins. 

Instead, this is a story about the creation of a new man. Born of a virgin. Begotten. Not made. 

There is a villain, of course. More than one, really. The tempter is near Joseph’s heart tempting him to leave Mary. There also Rome, the villain of a global super power, which rules the world outside the garden. Most clearly of all, though, there is Herod, who is so drunk with worldly power, and jealous of any new king that, as one preacher said it recently, he puts a hit out on a toddler. 

Temptation to power, resistance to God. It’s not a snake here. It’s us. It’s humanity. It’s… men… The sons of Adam’s apple don’t fall far from the tree, do we? 

In the midst of this, surrounded by created life and the villainy of sin and death, is born a new man. A new Adam. His name is Jesus. That means God saves. Jesus is born for the children of Adam and Eve. Jesus, Adam, and Eve. God Saves Human Life. 

A Garden, some villains, some angels, a woman, a man, and God. Except in this story the God and man are one.

That’s story 2. 

Now fast forward a couple months in the church calendar to Easter. See, if you’re typically a Christmas and Easter Christian, you’ve got all you need. 

Mary at the Tomb, artist unknown

At Easter, Christ has died at the hands of the world’s villains, including us. When he is pinned to a cross-shaped tree, the earth itself, creation itself, breaks open and cries out.  As he is crucified it appears the one who came to save us has succumbed himself to the villainy of Sin and Death. 

Three days have passed since then when another Mary, Mary Magdalene, another beloved rebel decides it’s a good day to go visit the grave of her Teacher. She approaches the tomb and sees that the stone has been rolled away. Like a gate having been left opened, the stone has been rolled away and there is no one guarding its entrance, angelic or otherwise.

Mary stands outside the tomb crying, like Eve outside the garden. And then peeking inside she finds an angel. Two angels. They ask her, “Why are you crying?” 

The angels ask her “Why are you crying?” and Mary says, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

It’s worth it pause there and allow that question of the angels to speak to us too. Whether or not you are literally in tears right now, I believe Mary’s tears are Adam and Eve’s tears, and our tears too. Pause and hear the angels ask us this question “Why are you crying?”

When Mary turns to leave, she runs into Jesus. He’s standing right there, but she does not realize that it’s him. 

The New Adam is there. Not lost. Present. Right in front of her. With her. She does not recognize him, yet there he is. 

He says to her, “Woman,” you hear that? It’s a reference to Genesis. “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” 

Caught up in her tears she says “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  

He says to her, “Mary.” “Mary.” “Rebel?” “Beloved.” It’s all she has to hear. She knows it’s him…  She runs to tell the others. 

Before she knew it was him, she thought he was the gardener. There’s our Garden. The tomb is a garden tomb where the New Adam is found tilling and keeping, found by a rebel turned beloved who leaves there a New Woman, a new Eve, running with the taste of good news on her lips. News of a Garden tomb, left open by angels. 

A Garden, a Woman, an Angel, a Man. In this story, the Villain is all that is captured in Mary’s tears, and God is the one who in Christ turns those tears into gladness and leaves the tomb, and the gate, open. 

That’s story number 3. 

Now, if we keep readingall the way to the end of the Bible, we find one more story of a Garden, a Villian, a Woman, a Man, an Angel, and God. 

Revelation 12 opens with a mystical vision of a Woman, a queen, a pregnant queen, crying out in birth pangs, the pain of childbirth, and menacing right in front of her is our villain, a Dragon. It’s super epic. 

Left side (detail), Miguel Cabrera, The Virgin of the Apocalypse, 1760, oil on canvas, 352.7 x 340 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA)
Miguel Cabrera, Virgin of the Apocalypse 1760

Like a giant cosmic serpent, the dragon is destroying the earth as the Woman cries out in birth pangs. But the dragon is staying close to the Woman ready to devour her son as soon as he is born. Her son is born and God snatches him away to the throne. His angels are sent, with flaming swords and they combat the dragon. Elsewhere the Lord himself fights with the double edged sword of his own tongue, his own word until finally the villain who is called the deceiver of the whole world is defeated. 

A Woman, A Villain, Angels, a Newborn Man, and God. But where’s the Garden? 

The River of Live, anonymous, between circa 1370 and circa 1390

The Garden comes in Revelation 22 where the New Adam, the Lion and the Lamb, Christ the Lord is on the throne, finally, at the center of a garden, with rivers of life flowing freely, and each one of the gates of this garden city are entirely open. And at the heart of the garden grows the Tree of Life with leaves of healing, whose fruit is plentiful and everlasting. 

A woman, a Man, a Villain, vanquished by Angels, and God, in a Garden. 

The great irony of this, though, the great irony of this whole story woven from Genesis to Revelation is that the Tree of Life of Genesis, once we get all the way to Revelation, we see that the Tree of Life is in fact the cross of Christ. The Tree of Life which would have doomed Adam and Eve to a broken eternity is chosen instead by Christ the New Adam and by entering it through his death, he becomes the first fruit of the Tree of New Life. It’s the fruit of this tree which we eat in eucharist, and the rivers of this garden whose waters flow in our baptism. He is the firstborn of a New Creation, and the one through whom we are all called women, men, children of God. 

This is the good news revealed in the scriptures, and in the testimony of the saints: countless men and women who Christ has found weeping at the garden tomb, whose tears have been turned to joy. We walk as those who have heard this news. News of a restored garden whose gates have been left open for us and for all. We are free, in fact, to walk in that Way, in that Truth, and in that Life even now. We walk having tasted the fruit of the cross, and been raised with Christ to New Life in his New Creation. 

In Christ, 

Every Woman is Beloved 

Each Man is Made New 

The Angels have prevailed 

The Villain is defeated

And the Garden gates are open. 

All of this is God’s gift, offered to us without price. Thanks be to God. 

Photo by Steven Field

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