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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Thoughts on Lent 1

The first words the Lord speaks to the newly created man is:

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
— Genesis 2:16–17

Here the Lord establishes the church before all other estates. Here, He gives the first sermon. Here, He erects the first temple, pulpit, and altar. Here, He establishes the first act of worship of man: to fast. By fasting from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve, and all their descendants would worship the Lord, would glorify His name, and praise His wondrous deeds.

This is how Luther speaks of it in his Lectures on Genesis:

In this passage the church is established, as I said, before there was a home government. Here the Lord is preaching to Adam and setting the Word before him. Although the Word is short, it is nevertheless worth our spending a little time on it. For if Adam had remained in innocence, this preaching would have been like a Bible for him and for all of us; and we would have had no need for paper, ink, pens, and that endless multitude of books which we require today, although we do not attain a thousandth part of that wisdom which Adam had in Paradise. This brief sermon would have brought to its conclusion the whole study of wisdom. It would have shown us, as if written on a tablet, the goodness of God, who had created this nature without those familiar inconveniences which followed later on because of sin. . . .

So, then, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or the place where trees of this kind were planted in large number, would have been the church at which Adam, together with his descendants, would have gathered on the Sabbath day. And after refreshing themselves from the tree of life he would have praised God and lauded Him for the dominion over all the creatures on the earth which had been given to mankind. Psalms 148 and 149 suggest a kind of liturgy for such thanksgiving, where the sun, the moon, the stars, the fish, and the dragons are commanded to praise the Lord. Yet every one of us could have composed a better and more perfect psalm than any of these if we had been begotten by Adam in innocence. Adam would have extolled the greatest gift, namely, that he, together with his descendants, was created according to the likeness of God. He would have admonished his descendants to live a holy and sinless life, to work faithfully in the garden, to watch it carefully, and to beware with the greatest care of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This outward place, ceremonial, word, and worship man would have had; and later on he would have returned to his working and guarding until a predetermined time had been fulfilled, when he would have been translated to heaven with the utmost pleasure.
— Luther's Works, Volume 1, 105–106.

We know the end of this account. A false prophet arose in the garden. A voice cried out with a different sermon. The serpent preached that they would not die because God knew that when they ate they would be as God Himself. Indeed, they would be gods unto themselves.

Is it any surprise then, that our Lord, after His baptism in the Jordan, is called into the wilderness to enact this same worship? He fasted, and while he was fasting, a voice in the wilderness cried out, “If you are really the Son of God . . . .” The temptation for Adam and Eve was to reject their calling as creatures and become as gods to themselves. The temptation for Christ was to reject His calling as the Son of God, submitting to the Father’s will, and take matters into His own hands. But our Lord does not bite the bait. He keeps the fast that Adam failed to keep. And this, He did, to deliver us. As we pray in the great litany:

C: Good Lord, deliver us.

L: By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity;
By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial;
By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter:
— Lutheran Service Book, 288.