Breaking the Fast – the Ancestral Sin

Posted: May 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Breaking the Fast – the Ancestral Sin

For several days, I’ve been reflecting on the story of the ancestral sin. I had never really considered this aspect before, but the whole story revolves around a fast. God gives the adam, humanity, a single and apparently simple fast. Anything in the garden you may eat, but of the fruit of this one tree, do not eat.

Do not eat.

It’s strange, in a way. We try, rightly I think, to understand what the symbol of this command might mean. We struggle with the impact of what it means when we choose that which is not God, turn to face non-existence, and reflect chaos into creation instead of the God whose image we bear. And we should so struggle. It is not some ancient event for which some distant ancestor is to blame.  We participate daily not only in our destruction, but in the fall of mankind and the ruin of creation. For we each set our will against God, against life itself, and embrace the non-existence of death instead.

And yet, in our reflection we miss the most basic aspect of the story: its crunchy, gritty, embodied reality. Don’t eat that fruit, God says. Come on … eat, the serpent whispers. And they eat. They pick the fruit. They hold it, feeling its texture in their hands. They smell it. They lift it to their mouths, bite into it, chew, and swallow. It’s not some disembodied spiritual or intellectual act in the story. They eat. They consume something and make it a part of who they are, a part of their body, a part of their being.

They break the fast that God has given them. They were surrounded by food created by God and given them to sustain their existence, to give them life. But when they swallowed the one fruit from which they were to fast, they swallowed death instead. Our materiality is part of nature, our being, our soul. What and how we eat matters.

We see this theme of food writ large across the story of what we Christians often call the Old Testament. We see famine – the absence of food – threatening God’s people and we see God providing them food in strange and marvelous ways. We see it again and again. And in the central event, in the penultimate liberation that defines the people of God for generations upon generations, we see death itself passing over those who have the blood of the lamb which they have consumed on their doors. Then those same people are fed by God through the manna, the bread that appears from the heavens, the bread that sustains their life in the desert.

And we see the people of God turn again and again to those which cannot sustain life. It might be a golden calf, or an asherah pole, or bloody baal. But they turn from the one who has given them food by which to live to that which offers only the coldness of death. The people of God continue to recapitulate the story of the fall. Do we not still do this as well?

And so God does the unthinkable. He comes to us as one of us. The sustainer God of all creation is contained in the womb of Mary, growing and being nourished from Mary as all human beings grow and are nourished in their mother’s womb. When the baby is born, entering the world of humanity through pain and struggle and blood, this is God joining our nature to his. When Jesus suckles at the breast of Mary, drawing life, it is intimately human life.

In this context, is not the first recorded temptation of Jesus fascinating? The Spirit of God has driven him into the desert to fast and pray and sustained by the Spirit Jesus has fasted beyond the natural capacity of human beings. How does the tempter then first tempt him? Make some bread. Eat. We can almost hear the serpent hissing in the background. Break your fast. Eat. Give yourself food in the desert. Fill your mouth with manna drawn from barren rock. Trust your passion rather than God.

But Jesus is faithful. He maintains the fast that God has given him. He does not eat. He remains true where we do not. In order to change our nature, Jesus had to not only be fully human, he had to keep the fast we had never kept. This fast provides the foundation for the fast that God desires in Isaiah. The two are linked. We are not dualists.

Jesus makes himself into the food which gives life. He is the true bread that comes down from heaven. He is the water that quenches all thirst, the cool refreshing life-giving draught. We chew and swallow his body because he is the tree of life, the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We swallow his blood to quench the desperate thirst that only God can quench.

We who have eaten death must now eat life instead.


Comments are closed.