For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life.
At the heart of the Christian Gospel is God’s plan for the salvation of the world which culminates in the destruction of death and the granting of eternal life to all who seek His love.
We are reminded through the season of Great Lent about why we humans don’t live in a Paradise in which immortality is normative. We reread each Lent the Book of Genesis in which we discover there is a relationship between our eating habits and the loss of immortality. Eve and Adam disobey the fast God imposed upon them in the Garden of Eden (the Paradise of Delight), and eat of the only fruit God commanded them to abstain: that of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The rest is history, so to speak.
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 for ever” — 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 flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
There was a tree in the Garden of Delight of which if we ate we would live forever. There also was a fast from one food given to our original ancestors which if followed would also have led to eternal life. In Orthodox hymnology and poetry and theology the mystical Tree remains central to God’s plan of salvation. Ultimately, that Tree from which if you eat you live forever is identified with the tree of the cross of Christ up0n which Christ was hung, and Christ Himself is the fruit which does give us eternal life. God does not deny us eternal life forever! There is forgiveness with Him, and He offers us again what was available to us in Paradise: that we might eat and live forever.
As we contemplate the Genesis story of Eve and Adam’s sin against God, we read what the Patristic writer’s called “theology in the form of narrative.” And this brings us to an understanding of the Gospel narrative as well. Jesus Christ teaches:
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:48-58)
The Jews on their desert sojourn were sustained by the miraculous manna, the bread of angels. Yet this bread did not give them eternal life. They ate of it, it sustained them, but they died, falling short not only of eternal life but of the promised land as well. In Christ, we proclaim that we are given that food of which if we eat we will live forever.
Great Lent is a season for us to learn to hunger for this food which if eaten grants eternal life.
“Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Great Lent is our time to learn the eternal significance of food and of eating and of fasting from things which are spiritually detrimental to our journey to the Kingdom.