While in Washington, DC recently, I had a chance to visit an exhibit entitled, “The Art of the Q’ran.” One part of the exhibit compared and contrasted the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In the story we are familiar with, Adam and Eve lived in paradise with one commandment — do not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. Tempted by the serpent, the woman eats of the fruit—- from there, we know the rest of the story — Adam and Eve are banned from the garden because of what they did. Eating of the fruit was the ORIGINAL SIN resulting in pain, suffering, work, and death for us all. Adam and Eve bore the blame for the sin and we suffer because of it. God does promise a Savior.
In the story in the Q’ran, there are similarities: Adam and Eve, a garden of paradise, command not to eat of the fruit and the serpent tempting the woman. But — from there, differences begin. In the Q’ran, God blames the serpent and forgives Adam and Eve. Rather than the story of Original Sin —- it becomes the story of ORIGINAL MERCY.
For me — this was “new news” — and a new insight into an old story.
The results are the same in both story — the world is broken. Pain, suffering, and death result. But, rather than leaving the garden shamefacedly [Genesis], Adam and Eve leave the garden lifted up and boosted by God’s love.
We have just marked the beginning of Lent — with ashes in the sign of the cross. The ashes a reminder that we are sinner — the shape of the cross, a reminder that we have a savior.
Do we focus on our sin and the need to control ourselves? Or, do we focus on what we can be with the power of God — with our minds and hearts aligned with the heart and mind of God?
In the Gospel [Matthew 4:1-11], Jesus faces temptation while in the desert. He aligns himself with God, the promise of God, and the power of God. Do we focus on — preach about — the power of temptation ——- or do we focus upon and preach about the awesome power of God and the JOY that comes when we stand with God.
Most of us would agree that Ash Wednesday is the day of the year when more people attend church than any other day of the year. I saw an estimate that 60,000 people were present to receive ashes at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York.
Here in Lake Charles, one of our Methodist Churches offered “Ashes on the Go” at three locations — drive through ashes. I heard of a young priest [not in Lake Charles] who began his homily by telling people that if they intended to leave after they got ashes, they should leave NOW. If they were not going to stay for communion and the end of mass, it would be better that they leave NOW.
As a priest for so many Ash Wednesday services — I know there is frustration when people come “just for the ashes.” But, at 67 years old — and stepping back to look from a distance — I see how inviting one approach is and how limiting is the other.
I do not reject external religious practices. But, how do we know what is in the heart and why one is doing what they are doing?
I think of Adam and Eve leaving the garden shamefacedly and Adam and Eve leaving the garden knowing they had done wrong —- but knowing they are forgiven and ready to begin again.
Temptation is real, but temptation is not a sin. Temptation is real and needs to be taken seriously. But, standing with God — and supported by a community of believers [church] we can deal with any temptation and any failure of the past.
In the Q’ran’s version of the story, it seems the focus is on the mercy of God — and the presence of God — in the Genesis, we seem to see a focus on the disobedience of man/woman, their shame, and the blame put on them for the rupture of the world.
We pray: Be merciful, O lord, for we have sinned. And God says, “turn to me with your heart. Rend your hearts and not your garments.”
We journey dealing with a challenge to turn to God — not to please God, but to be happier people. Sin is an empty promise. Mercy is rich — and brings us to fullness of life.
It really does not matter if Eve is at fault — or if the serpent is at fault. What matters is that with God, life is good and we are happy.