Restoring Communion in Christ
Rev. Doug Floyd
Genesis 3:1-21, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13–18, Mark 3:20-35
In our Gospel reading today, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Our text says that Jesus answered them in parables saying, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” (Mark 3:23–24). He continues with an image of a house divided against itself, Satan divided against himself, and binding the strong man to plunder his goods. In this image of division, Jesus gives us a picture of this world including the power of the evil one, the kingdom of Rome, and the leaders of Israel. It is a world of division that is collapsing.
By implication, this world of division is contrasted with the union or communion found within kingdom of God. At the heart of the kingdom is the loving communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This perfect union in the Godhead creates the world and raises up a family of Jew and Gentile, a community that reflects the communion within God. For instance, in John 17:22-23 Jesus prays to the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Let’s reflect for a few minutes this morning on this communion of the Kingdom versus the division or disintegration of evil. Our first lesson from Genesis 3 tells the familiar story of human transgression against the command of God when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree. Genesis 1 and 2 tell the story of creation.
God freely creates the heavens and the earth. He forms and fills this creation with seas, land masses, all varieties of plants and tree and vegetation. The lights in the heavens order creation by season and days and nights, and all manner of animals cover the earth, fill the skies, and populate the seas. Finally, the Lord fashions clay into human (male and female) who will bear the image and likeness of God. All creation is bathed in the light of His glory.
The first two chapters of Genesis give us a picture of beautiful harmony, an abundant creation filled with rich treasures in every direction. Adam is placed into garden to care for the land and name the animals. His interaction with both plant and animal could suggest a mutuality of life. All things support and strengthen all other things within God’s gloriously-created kingdom. Adam and eventually Eve serve as guardians of this magnificent creation that shines forth with the manifold wisdom of God united in and by His Word.
Adam and Eve learn trust in the same way a baby trusts: by resting in the provision of the generous and loving Creator who not only provides for humans but communicates with them. He gives them directions and they readily obey. In this sense, Adam and Eve trust and obey the Creator who demonstrates His lovingkindness in every aspect of this cosmos.
Genesis three tells a different story. It is the undoing of the world: the beginning of the disintegration of all things. In his writing On the Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius tells us that humans are created in and through the Word. By turning away from God, they begin moving from being to non-being. They cannot sustain themselves of their own strength, so they are coming undone so to speak: if not for the grace of God they will descend into corruption, into nothingness.
We see the beginning of this corruption in Genesis Three. The serpent speaks in a seductive voice, tempting Adam and Eve to doubt the absolute trust they’ve placed in God. He begins by asking a seeming innocent question, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” But his innocent question gives way to accusation, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He invites them into the way of knowledge over the way of communion.
Knowledge in and of itself is not sinful but this supposed “secret knowledge” the serpent promises leads away from communion with God and into autonomy: independence of God. Humans cannot live outside of loving communion thus this autonomy is actually alienation. It is a knowledge that cuts Adam and Eve off from relation with God, brings conflict between husband and wife, and damages the mutuality of life with creation.
When Adam and Eve grasp this fruit of the forbidden tree, they are disobeying the Creator and turning away from the light of His glory. They see themselves as naked. Maximus the Confessor suggests that they are no longer clothed in the glory of God. The text does not exactly tell us what happens except that they perceive they are naked and they clothe themselves with fig leaves. They experience some form of guilt or shame that drives them to clothe themselves. They no longer are trusting in God to provide but in themselves. These clothes or coverings simply reveal their own newfound self-righteousness.
This is an empty covering. Though they may feel clothed as soon as they sense God drawing near, they hide, which is a second attempt at covering themselves. Now that humans have listened to the seductions of the serpent, they are alienated from God and naked or exposed before God and one another. Now they fear being seen by the Creator who has shown them gracious generosity in giving them life and enriching them in every away. They no longer see that grace but tremble in fear.
When God calls out to Adam, he says, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” The familiar presence of God, which should bring reassurance and comfort brings fear of exposure to Adam. Then he deflects the guilt away from himself by pointing to the woman who in turn points to the serpent.
So now we see images of doubt, disobedience, guilt, self-righteousness, fear, and blame or criticism. These are all aspects of a world that is disintegrating. Think of each of these responses today. How easy it is to cover our own guilt by self-righteous observances whether in church practices or culturally appropriate practices. How easy it is to deflect our own sense of insufficiency by criticizing the people and world around us. There are times to question and challenge, but if my primary response to the world becomes one of criticism, I would do well to exam my own heart and ask the Holy Spirit to show me what I am trying to hide. What I am using for my own self righteous cover? Who am I blaming? What is it that I fear from God?
In our story today, the Lord assesses the damage of this betrayal, this transgression of the command. It results in a curse that will cause division throughout the world: turning brother against brother, husbands against wives and children against parents. The Lord will not forsake His people who are touched by this curse.
As a sign of His faithful love, the Lord replaces the human covering of fig leaves with the animal skin. This is an image of sacrifice and atonement but also an image of grace. The Lord makes provision for human failure: he covers their betrayal and still loves them. He preserves a way for communion for His people while also promising a future redemption. This points to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In Christ, the Son of God dwells among us, enters our failures, our brokenness, our pain, our experience of corruption. Our disintegration. He overcomes the power of the evil one through the ultimate expression of disintegration, death on the cross. In this death, Jesus becomes the permanent covering for His people. They are clothed in His righteousness. Jesus reintegrates His people into the kingdom of God, the communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This communion will one day reshape the cosmos into a true Sabbath, a glorious harmony, a mutuality of self sacrificing love. We live with this hope of a restored kingdom that stretches beyond death, but we also live within a world of doubt, distrust, disobedience, guilt, self-righteousness, criticism, division, and disintegration. Let us not lose hope or take on the self-righteous rags of the age in place of the grace of God. Let us not give into to the criticism and doubt and despair that prevails at every turn.
Let us turn afresh to Jesus Christ, trusting Him as the author and finisher of our faith. We confess our guilt, shame, self-righteousness and failures, and look to Christ as our hope. By His grace we are united to Christ, clothed in His righteousness and even now we are growing from glory to glory as a sanctified people, revealing the light of His love and grace in all we say and do.