We continue looking at the themes for the Year A “Season of Creation” Sundays.
Week Two is intended to follow the Theme of “Land.” In Genesis 3:14-19, 4:8-16, God tells Adam, Eve, and the snake the consequences of breaking the one rule of the garden, ending with “you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and Cain kills Abel. Romans 5:12-17 reminds us that sin came through Adam and salvation comes through Jesus. Finally, Matthew 12:38-40 details an encounter between Jesus and some religious leaders, telling them the sign they will get is that of Jonah, when the Son of Man spends three days and nights not in a fish, but in the earth.
“Land” shows up clearly in the Hebrew Scripture and the gospel, and I find myself thinking of Wile E. Coyote in the cartoon “Operation: Rabbit,” where he meets Bugs Bunny and where, unlike all his encounters with the Road Runner, he gets to speak. Again and again, he introduces himself first as “Wile E. Coyote, Genius,” and finally as “Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius.” Again and again, his plans backfire. Again and again, those plans become more elaborate and the backfires more severe. Finally, thoroughly defeated, he introduces himself with “Hello. My name is Mud.”
The stories we explored last week, you may recall, included humans being formed from the dust of the earth, the adamah, out of which we get Adam. This week, there is the sense the humans want to rise above this: God curses the snake to crawl around in the dirt for all time. Or at least the tellers of these early Genesis tales portray it as a curse, and the sin of the humans in Eden is often seen as hubris; the humans’ great temptation is that they can be equal to God and that they buy into this even when they’re outwitted by a snake—not Satan, a snake.
The comic tragedy of this is played out more when Adam and Eve cover their private parts with fig leaves; certain middle eastern fig plants have thorns on the leaves that ooze very sticky sap when they are broken off the plant. The humans became so God-like that they covered their most sensitive parts in thorns and glue. No wonder God had to make clothes for them.
So hubris probably contributed to the sin, as did some impatience and more than a little fear and paranoia: God was holding out on them! God wanted to hold them back and keep all the best stuff for Godself! From a Christian perspective, this seems ridiculous: God loves us so much “that we should be called children of God” says 1 John 3:1, and Paul goes on about the entire plan being to make us God’s heirs. But, when we don’t know everything—and none of us do—it is easy for hucksters to convince us that we are missing out, that others are out to hurt us, and that we should stop them. Just turn on the news for examples of that in Moscow, Hungary, Italy, the United Kingdom, China, West Africa, Washington, DC, or Florida—a short list to get us started.
We humans do this because we are so smart—just like Wile E. Coyote, Genius—and it backfires on us—just like Wile E. Coyote, Genius—and so the next plan needs to be better, smarter. In Eden, there was one rule: don’t eat from the tree. Breaking one rule broke the system and broke our first two relationships, to God and to the earth. Adam has to work the soil to get food; Cain has to work the soil harder. The history of agriculture is replete with more and more complex ways to make the soil work for us, with more and more promise but also more and more devastating effects. It’s not hubris, but fear of missing out. As we scramble to pay our bills, to keep our place in society, or to keep our churches from dying (lest they be resurrected?), we need more drastic efforts, more rules: Super Genius.
This isn’t the last word, however. Jesus has the last word. It includes returning to the earth: our relationship with God isn’t restored without our relationship to the land being restored. This includes not only environmental practices, but our treatment of those whose land we take and those we take from their land. Restoration will be costly and difficult; Jesus says it requires death.
We say “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” most often on Ash Wednesday. What if that’s grace? We can return to the earth, and, through that, rise into the New Creation. We can restore all the broken relationships if we are willing. God shows us the way back and waits for us to follow.
At the end of the cartoon, Wile E. Coyote introduces himself one last time: “Hello. My name is Mud.” Bugs Bunny replies, “And ‘mud’ spelled backwards is ‘dum.’” But I think Bugs is wrong, and not just grammatically. “My name is Mud” might be our best hope.