Jesus says unless a grain falls to the ground and dies it doesn't bear fruit. There is death that has purpose.
Death is what Jesus spoke in the garden on the evening at the start of the seventh day - in the Bible's 3300 year old story of origins, written down by Moses.
We could discuss whether the book is historical but at the very least we have to say that it makes emotional sense. I think it is historical but for now just ask the emotional sense question. We all have our origins stories -- and we need origins stories that can make emotional sense of where we find ourselves... Emotional resonance isn't enough in itself, but it's a vital part of how we find the scheme of things.
The story is told of humanity who were naked and unashamed, and then became naked and shamed, and fearful and hiding. The aspiration of life without insecurity and the reality of the way we hide from one another has huge emotional resonance for us today. You might have questions about the figure called The Serpent - though the idea of personal evil isn't so far fetched - but the story has great explanatory power for our present experience.
So too does it's diagnosis of how this horrible wrongness entered the world. They weren't just rule breakers. Physics laws might describe and even define the world but laws alone aren't enough to explain who we are. We're relational beings, and this story says we became relational betrayers and ended up with relational breakdown. That rings true in our experience of life.
And at the worst possible moment Jesus walks into the room. Or at least, into the garden. Gasp. Jesus invites them to relationship, seeking to win their hearts again. He came looking for rest in relationship with them and found that his beloved humanity had run after other lovers. Still he reaches out to them.
Again, you might have questions about whether there is a God who can walk in the room. That question matters - but the possibility shouldn't just be excluded. A God who gets involved is both appealing and the explanation offered for the person at the centre of human history, Jesus of Nazareth.
In the mean time, taking the story on its own terms. He steps in, and he speaks good news to them with a question: where are you? God's response to human betrayal is a question, an invitation, and offer of life.
But not without cost. They've been corrupted. They are "flesh".
And the flesh can't live. It's dead.
But life is on offer.
Life in the Spirit. Life in the love of God.
Life in the community of God.
But, life in the Spirit only happens through death and resurrection.
Death is curse and mercy.
- Firstly death to himself. There will be an epic battle between good and evil. And there will be victory. It's a story that resonates with the cinema screen and our hopes and expectations of happy endings. The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. A man will come and defeat evil. At cost to himself. He will be bruised. Jesus who prophesies this will himself be that seed. The desire for evil to be defeated resonates. And this story also now begins to deal with the historic reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The story makes emotional sense but now we have to deal with historical sense: what to do with Jesus.
- Secondly, death to our spreading goodness. In an act of frustration and mercy Jesus speaks death to the very things he'd called us to do. Humanity was to image God in the world by filling and cultivating the world - filling up what God had begun. I've witnesses the pain of child-birth and completed a day's work exhausted. It rings true. We're not left to attain a godless prosperity and heaven on earth. The Grand Designs Life is just chasing the wind. And the cold light of day is an act of mercy.
- Thirdly, death to bring forgiveness. People of the flesh try to cover up their sin with fig leaves. A pathetic attempt to cover our embarrassment and shame. Right instinct, wrong way. Jesus puts animals to death to show that blood must be shed to bring life. In this case only temporarily, but in the end he will be the final sacrifice, whose blood will allow humanity to be truly clothed forever. Not ultimately naked, but clothed in Jesus himself. There will be blood, and so our shame can be covered.
- Fourthly, death to bring rest. They're kicked out of the garden. He came for rest but has to exclude them. Angels block the way into Eden as they will to the tabernacle and the temple until Jesus dies to tear that curtain down. A Muslim may offer paradise, a Jehovah's Witness may offer peace, but the offer of Jesus is himself.
The dwelling of God, in the end, will be with humanity.
The home of God, in the end, will be with humanity.