Cross Found in Eden
Cross of Christ Found in the Garden of Eden
A few years ago, the newspapers, magazines and tv shows were headlining a recent story claiming that the tomb or reliquary of Jesus, the Son of Joseph has been discovered. Movie director James Cameron and an Israeli journalist were championing the story which called into question the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have a different headline for you today: “The Cross of Christ Found in Garden of Eden.” Some might say, “didn’t St. Helen find the true Cross of Christ back in the early fourth century? Yes, but to understand the deeper meaning of the Cross of Christ today, which we Venerate on this the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, we must go all the way back to the beginning of Creation. It is in the Garden of Eden, where the Cross of Christ first appeared. Hearing this novel headline, let’s go back in time to investigate the story.
When God created the universe and the world, He planted a garden eastward in Eden (Gen. 2:8). In the Septuagint Greek translation, the word for ‘garden’ is ‘paradeisos’ or ‘paradise’ – a place of extreme beauty, delight and happiness. The Garden of Eden was paradise because it was the place of communion where God lived and walked (Gen.3:8) with His creation, especially His human creation—Adam and Eve. In the Garden, God placed two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9). God created mankind out of love. He created man and woman in His image and likeness (Gen.1:26); He gave them dominion over all life (Gen.1:26). He blessed them and commanded them to procreate (Gen. 1:28). He gave them food (Gen. 1:29). He gave man the breath of life from Himself (Gen. 2:7). God told Adam and Even they could eat of anything in the Garden of Eden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if they did, they would die (Gen. 2:15-17). Because of His great love, God did not want mankind to die.
However, the devil in the form of a serpent tempted the woman to eat of the tree by lying to her, saying, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen. 3:4-5). Many consequences are resulted from this action including death, “You are dust and to the dust you shall return” (Gen.3:19) which is typified through the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and the Flaming Sword placed to guard the Tree of Life (Gen.3:24)
What does all this have to do with the Crucifixion Cross of Christ? Well, God did want Adam and Eve to become like Him. That’s why He created them in His image and likeness. However, there was a specific plan or way that was to happen. Notice that God never told Adam and Eve they could not eat of the Tree of Life in the Garden.
So, what is the Tree of Life? The Tree of Life is Immortality or Eternal Life. “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen.3:22).
Knowing what Christ did on the Cross, that as the all-mighty God, He took on all the pathetic sinful hate of the world and died for us, we now know that the Tree of Life is also image of God’s sacrificial, self-emptying love—agape. Therefore, Adam and Eve, were allowed and encouraged to partake of eternal life, to experience, learn and live a life of sacrificial, self-less love.
However, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is the image of prideful, self-centeredness. It’s not an image of wisdom. Knowledge does not equal wisdom. Knowledge here equates to experience. This is still today the false message of the world, that is, in order to gain knowledge we must experience things. However, the opposite is truth: that knowledge and wisdom are gained through abstinence and fasting. This approach, “though shall not eat,” brings cleansing and purity. Proverbs tell us repeatedly that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
Another way of saying this that the tree of knowledge is about learning the hard way—suffering the consequences first and by them, learning the lesson that some things are not good for us. But the hard way is not the only way to learn. We can learn by listening to wise advice, especially the commandments of God, and through obedience, avoid the negative consequences of poor, unhealthy and sinful choices. Why do you think so many commandments start with “Thou, meaning you, shall not?” They are centered on abstinence, or what some might call ‘fasting.’
The hymnography of today’s service, teaches us how things have been changed by Christ and His Cross.
Kontakion (Varis Tone)- The fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden, for in a strange and glorious way the wood of the Cross has quenched its flames. The sting of death and the victory of hell are now destroyed, for You have come, my Savior, crying unto those in hell: ‘Return again to Paradise.’ (Gen. 3:24; 1Cor. 15:55; 1Peter 3:19)
Ikos- Pilate set up three crosses in the place of the Skull, two for the thieves and one for the Giver of Life. Seeing Him, hell cried to those below: ‘O my ministers and powers! Who is this that has fixed a nail in my heart? A wooden spear has pierced me suddenly, and I am torn apart. Inwardly I suffer; anguish has seized my belly and my senses. My spirit trembles, and I am constrained to cast out Adam and his posterity. A tree brought them to my realm, but now the Tree of the Cross brings them back again to Paradise.
So, when, Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Take up your cross,” we understand better how abstinence and fasting, through voluntary self-sacrifice, slowly teaches us how to deny all other selfish desires. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat, but He did not prevent them. God does not make us fast. We must voluntarily accept it--obedience.
To conclude, how do we return to Paradise? We must be like Moses and Jonah, as the hymns of today’s Katavasias teach, and stretch out our arms in prayerful supplication to God. Literally, we must form our body as if on a cross, turning away from self-reliance and turning towards God-dependency. In this posture, we become like children, waiting to be scooped up by our loving parents. We become like true friends looking for and offering a warm embrace of acceptance and comfort. To find God and to find His faithful friends, we must return to the Garden of Eden. Yet, do we know where it is located? Some say or teach that eternal life in heaven comes our earthly death at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is true. However it is much more and it is already here. We don’t have to wait any longer to go live in the Garden of Eden.
Since the time of Christ up till now, it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the Garden of Eden. “The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise, having within it, like the first Paradise of old, a tree of life, Your Cross, O Lord. By touching it we share in immortality.” (Canon- 5th Ode) Thus, in order to return to Eden, we must return to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in the life of the Church. Where else are we going to go? Are we going to find God’s Paradise in our house, in our hobbies, in our work? No, as long as whatever is prefaced by “our” or “mine”, we’ll never find it. However, if it’s prefaced by “God’s” house, “God’s” work, “God’s” will, then we will find eternal life, a life of self-sacrificial love- agape. Amen.