When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, he did so knowing exactly what he was doing. He was pushing them, in their flesh and blood, to desire only that – flesh and blood. The devil was on a mission to make sure that these new human beings would long and desire only more of this life, with all of its physical tastes, touches, and smells.
Human beings, filled with the breath of life from God himself, were made for something more. And so Satan tried to make them think they were made for something less.
“You will not surely die,” he said. This was a truth and a lie. The man and the woman would not in that instant suffer a physical death, as if the apple were a physical poison that would put them directly into the grave. But the man and the woman would surely suffer death. And this was the lie. They no longer would be living for God in his Sabbath rest. They would be living for something else, for something lesser.
When Adam and Eve took the fruit in the Garden of Eden, they began to see this life – this physical life – as the highest value. Nothing mattered more than this life and preserving this life and grabbing more and more for this life. People who had the very breath of life in them, the breath of the eternal, began to take limited, perishable goods to try to satisfy a longing inside of them for the inexhaustible and the permanent.
“The eyes of both were opened.” They began for the first time to see themselves as physical beings who had something physical to protect at all costs. At the same time, they lost sight of, they became blind to, the reality that their relationship with God was the whole fact of life.
And God punished them accordingly. Childbirth and work are our chief vocations in life. They send life further down the field. We live longer and our people and families live longer through childbirth and work. These things, which became the chief ends of humanity the moment of the first human sin, were suddenly made to be full of “pain.”
And humanity remains this way today. We remain running from death and fighting every moment against it, as if our physical death were a thing that mattered most in the long run. We gather up fading things, accumulating them in barns and protecting them at all costs.
A writer complained recently about people who are not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough. He wrote, “I want to find an antimasker and beat them to death.” His sister had been made a widow because of COVID, and now the writer was blaming those who don’t wear masks for her plight.
This is pain. This writer was staring physical death in the face, despite all his efforts to avoid it for himself and his family.
And this is life when “this life” suddenly becomes the full sum of our existence. We begin to compete. We begin to become violent. We begin to seek to end the lives of those whom we see as a threat to our own. This world, filled with sin, is an ugly place.
God’s plan was to re-open our eyes. Jesus after his resurrection met two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were transfixed by his teaching, and they invited him to dinner. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 34:30-31).
In the eating was a new “opening” for our eyes. To see the resurrected Christ – who died on the cross for our sins – is to have our eyes begin to close to this winner-take-all physical life and to open again to the reality of God and the Sabbath rest he is inviting us to enter.
The world quite obviously is living without God at this moment in world history. The very angst that drives people to threaten those who don’t wear masks is the angst that sees this life as the only kind of life there is. It’s the angst that cries out against the idea that we will “surely die.” Somewhere inside of every human is a cry of desperation as we look at others and look at ourselves, and we cry out in disbelief, “You will not surely die!”
We don’t want to die because have lost faith in what may come next. Well, at least some people have.
In the church, we meet people who live with joyful acceptance that someday we will return to dust, as God had said. But we also recognize that this death, because of Christ, has lost its power over us. The apostle Paul reminds us we will be resurrected, just like our Savior:
“’Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
It is only those who inhabit the church who know this. It is only those who live freely in this body – who no longer compete with one another, who constantly forgive, who don’t lord it over others but serve them – who embody this truth. We no longer compete, we always forgive, and we always serve because we know we have nothing to lose.
Unlike Adam and Eve, we are not concerned any more about dying. This life has been given to us by the one who rose from the dead and who breaks bread for us.