Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that brought the curse of sin and death to bear on all creation. Or, rather, it was the eating of that fruit. In the day you eat of it, God said, you shall surely die. They did not listen to the words of their God and Creator. Instead, they listened, in turn, to the voice of a serpent and the voice of a human. And then they made up their own mind about the fruit. Ignoring the warning of God, they ate and they—and everyone after them—died. Death is the actual fruit that we eat when we try to cross the eternal boundary between Creator and creature. The main thing was not the fruit in itself. It was the fact that God had drawn a line between Himself and them, a line that they were not able to cross without actually losing everything they thought they would gain.
The devil lies. He says that it will be all okay. Don’t worry about the consequences; they’re a long way off, if they’re going to happen at all. You will not surely die. And they listened to those words and they looked for themselves, decided for themselves, made their own judgment of what was good and evil, even before eating from that tree. And maybe they thought, for just a moment, that they could avoid the Word of God. They didn’t drop dead as soon as they took a bite, as if the fruit was covered with some fast-acting poison. But the poison wasn’t in the fruit; it was in their hearts.
And suddenly creation looked different to them. Shame and guilt appeared. And God appeared different. He appeared as a fearful and angry Presence, rather than as their loving Creator, who had given them everything in the Garden but the fruit of that one tree. And they were driven out of the Garden, where God, their Life, had been near to them. What is death, but to be cut off from Life? Cut off from God and from the Tree of Life, from which they had eaten freely. The Garden that God had made to be occupied and filled with the life and laughter and labor of His human creatures was now silent and empty. And then the Flood, because of the deluge of sin covering the earth, erased that Garden from this world.
But Life remained with the Creator. And that life appeared on earth in flesh like Adam and Eve’s. He was tempted as they were, but without sin. He did not reach out to take what was not given to Him as a man. He received, fully and completely, from His Creator and Father. He had come to reverse and restore what they had lost, especially life. And for life, God gives a Tree. It was planted outside Jerusalem, at a place that looked nothing like a Garden, and nothing like life. But hear what Jesus says to the robber: Today I tell you, you will be with Me in Paradise. Because in the middle of any wasteland, if Jesus is there, it is Paradise. He hangs from a Tree that looks like death, but is actually life being poured out for the whole world.
For those who had been cast out of the Garden of Life so many generations before, who had been suffering, hoping, waiting, longing for everything to be put right again, here, finally, was Life in the midst of death. And the One who is Life itself told His disciples about where they could eat the fruit of His Tree. When His blood had been shed like the Passover lambs of Israel, then they would finally eat and drink what had long been denied them: the fruit of the Tree of Life. He “accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life might rise again; and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome” (Proper Preface for Holy Week).
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought death to creatures who could not be their own creators. The tree of the cross brings life to those who cannot overcome that death. God drew a line between Himself as God and Creator and His human creatures. Thus far, and no farther, He said. You have dominion over all creation, but you cannot be your own gods and lords. Christ has erased the line between God and Man in Himself. He is both the one through whom all things were made, and the man whose body was created for Him in the womb of Mary. God remains God, but now men and women are truly human again in Him.
God said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But Adam and Eve did not listen to God’s Word, and so they died. Now the God incarnate says a new word: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. … This is the bread that came down from heaven… whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:54-58). “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. … This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:19-20). In the day you eat of the fruit of this tree in faith, you will surely live. Do not listen to the lies of the devil: Did God really say you would live if you eat a silly piece of bread and drink a little sip of wine? You will not surely live.
But our God and Creator has said it. And what He says, He does. So we eat what He says. And we live, because this is the fruit of the Tree of Life. I am the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus says. Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, he will live. And the one who is living in faith when I come will never die. We cannot go away from Him. He alone has the words of eternal life. It is life that is unseen now, but we will see it. When the creation is restored, the Tree of Life will be restored to its proper place, not in the center of a Garden, but in the center of the City.
Look, the angel says: there is the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. Also, look there: on either side of the river is the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month, forever and ever. We have been eating the fruit of that tree here on earth. But the leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations, healing the guilt and shame that Adam and Eve tried to cover with fig leaves. And the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is nowhere to be found in that city because there is only knowledge of the Good, who is God and the Lamb with the Spirit. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him (Revelation 22:1-3).
There is no life anywhere else in this creation, except the One who took on created flesh to feed His flesh-and-blood creatures. Here He is, holding open, pierced hands out to you, speaking His words of life: Come and eat. I am the Life who gave My flesh and poured out My blood for the life of the world, for you. The tree of the cross has become the Tree of Life because of Him who was crucified on it. And therefore His death in this creation has become Life for you. Once risen from the dead, the Passover is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near. Tonight, as at every time we gather around this altar, it has come near to you. Christ, our Passover Lamb is sacrificed! Let us keep the feast!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/11/19