Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “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.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate. Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done?” The woman said, The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Everything has begun to unravel.
The birdsong has gone eerily flat; the leaves on the trees are quivering. A deer, browsing in the meadow, suddenly darts into the forest. Death is in the air.
Sin has taken root in God’s good world like a noxious weed. Stubborn and pervasive, it seems impossible to rid the garden of it. Now, quite literally, the land will produce thorns and thistles, making daily sustenance into hard labor.
Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit off the tree that God commanded them not to eat from, they are banished from the garden. Exiled. They ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and now they are cut off from the tree of life.
But you might know how the story ends. There’s a tree at the beginning of the story, and there’s one at the end. At the end, the tree is smack dab in the center of the city, drawing its nourishment from the river that flows from the throne of God. The leaves of the tree have restorative powers: they are “for the healing of the nations” (Revelations 22:2). The people who live in the city have a share in that tree.
So how do we get from the tree at the beginning to the tree at the end? It’s by way of another tree—the cross upon which Jesus hangs. God the Son takes up residence in the world, not like a noxious weed, but like a careful gardener, tending his creatures and sacrificing himself on our behalf. Because of his birth, death, and resurrection, we are invited back to the tree. We can eat of its fruit, find rest in its shade, and delight in its beauty. Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Lord of life, sometimes your sacrifice takes me aback. I’ve sinned. Along with Adam and Eve, I’m the one who eats the fruit I shouldn’t—but I’m not the one who is punished. Jesus, you took on the consequences of sin for the whole world, willingly being exiled from the presence of God the Father so that we could be reunited with him. Thank you for inviting us back to the tree. Amen.