ASH WEDNESDAY - MARCH 1, 2017

 

“In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This was God’s solemn warning to Adam and Eve. Then came the serpent with a simple question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” and suddenly Eve is no longer seriously considering the consequences of her actions. After all, the fruit didn’t look dangerous or unpleasant but good, and it could make her wise. How could something that promised such wonderful things be so bad?

 

Adam and Eve found out the hard way that God was serious and His warning true. They were warned of death, and death is what they got. They felt their damnation, and they ran from God.

 

Our age-old problem is that we have never stopped eating the fruit that leads to death. Every day the scene in the garden gets replayed. You see something that you desire. You know that God says no, but Satan taunts, “Did God actually say…?” and a voice inside adds, “Well, maybe just one little bite won’t hurt.”

 

You know the commandments of God. You know that He requires you to be holy, to love and obey God perfectly in thought, word, and deed. And yet, how quickly caution is thrown to the wind and the warnings of God’s Word ignored when you see something that you want. Did God really say? Was He really serious when He said, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not covet…” (Exod. 20).

 

Children aren’t the only ones who test the limits. Like a child testing his parents, you and I see just how much we can get away with, just how far we can push the limits before God will inflict punishment. Sin is not being content with what God has given and so not being content to stay within the bounds of His Law. This always ends badly. Adam and Eve ended up banished from the tree of life, exiled from the garden, and dying. This is why you and I will also return to dust.

 

Adam and Eve needed a Savior; and so do you and I. A Savior from sin and its consequences. One who would undo the spiritual train wreck left behind in the garden and save us all from sin, death, and the devil. One who would open up a way back into paradise and to the tree of life. God promised He would send one from the woman’s seed to do this. His own Son would assume your flesh, take your sin, your shame, and your death upon Himself. Jesus, true God and true Man, would “drink the cup of scorn and dread to crush the ancient serpent’s head” (LSB 561:3).

 

For us, and for our salvation, Jesus, the new and better Adam, said “no” to the devil’s temptations. Rather than eat the forbidden fruit of earthly power and glory, Christ ate nothing. He refused to satisfy Himself and even denied Himself food and drink for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. He was content to live by the Word of His Father—for you.

 

That is what this Lenten season is all about. Beginning today, with ashes marked on our foreheads, we return to the garden. We remember with shame the fall of our first parents and the mortal life that we now share with them on account of our own sins. We take our place next to Adam and Eve and hear the terrifying voice of the Lord: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

 

But we also remember that Christ, the promised Savior, came. True God and true man, He crushed Satan and rescued us from our sin and guilt by bearing our sins on the tree of the cross for us and giving Himself over to His Father’s wrath in our stead. He has made satisfaction for our sins. Our joy and comfort in the midst of sin and death is Jesus in His death for sin for us.

 

All of this He did so that Adam and his children might live. So that, even though returning to dust, we might also rise again with Him. He drank the cup of suffering and tasted death for us all so that we, the fallen children of Adam and Eve, might once again have full and free access to the tree of life. That access is given to us uniquely in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper.

 

Now, in sacramental bread and wine, we who are washed in the blood of the Lamb are given to eat another kind of fruit; a life-giving fruit given to us from the tree of the cross. This fruit is none other than the body and blood of our Lord, given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And whereas the fruit from the tree of knowledge brought death to Adam, this fruit from the tree of the cross brings life. For Christ promises, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).

 

This holy gift, when received in repentance and faith, bestows the very life of Christ and seals the one who eats of it with the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. As the hymn confesses, “Now from that tree of Jesus’ shame flows life eternal in His name; For all who trust and will believe, salvation’s living fruit receive. And of this fruit so pure and sweet the Lord invites the world to eat, to find within this cross of wood the tree of life with ev’ry good” (LSB 561:4).

 

Now, unlike the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was pleasing to the eye, there is nothing extraordinary about this sacramental fruit. It seems so simple and insignificant. The unbelieving world looks at it and asks, “How can something so ordinary, unattractive and unimpressive bestow such gifts?” Just as we are mocked for placing our trust in a crucified Savior, we are mocked for believing that this simple bread and wine are Jesus’ body and blood and bring us His forgiveness. Yet the words of Christ do not lie: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

Today, it is fitting that we mourn over our sins, that the ashes of death adorn our foreheads. We are Adam’s sons and daughters, after all, and we also have lived as if God did not matter, and as if we mattered most.

 

But we do not mourn without hope. For, as we see in God’s response to Adam and Eve, our God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). The same God who forgave Adam and Eve and promised them a Savior now welcomes you to His holy Table with this promise: “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).

 

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our promised Savior! Amen.