The man and the woman heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. We can only imagine what that must have been like for the them. We wonder, if, when God walked through the garden, was it like the sound of a soft breeze blowing through the leaves? Or, was it more thunderous, like the sound of a large creature stomping through the forest? Whatever it was like, for the man and the woman at least, it certainly wasn’t mysterious, or strange, or even unexpected. We get this sense that this was how life was for the two of them. In the cool of the day, either early morning, or early evening, God would come and take a walk with them in the garden.
If it was early in the morning, we can imagine that the man and the woman may have talked with God about what they were going to do that day, about how they were going to take care of God’s garden. Maybe this time of walking together was so that the man and woman could compare notes with God, to be sure that they were on the same page with God, tending the garden in accordance with God’s wishes. Of course, if this walk took place in the early evening, then they could have talked with God about what they did earlier that day. Or, maybe, talking shop, simply wasn’t on the agenda during these daily walks. Maybe these daily walk were about nothing more than simply smelling the roses, enjoying the garden, taking joy in each other’s company. Whatever this stroll in the garden with God meant for the man and the woman, it all changed one day. On one particular day, the man and woman heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid. They hid from God; they hid from their creator; they hid from their friend, because they were afraid. Like a child who goes and hides in the bedroom closet when he has done something wrong, so the man and the woman, hid from God. How heartbreaking it must have been for the man and the woman to find that they were afraid of God. They had never been afraid of God before; they walked with God in the cool of the day. Now that unique and wonderful opportunity was gone, because they were afraid. On the other hand, how heartbreaking it must have been for God, to find himself being feared by the very ones he loved so much. God had never been feared like this before. The man and woman may have been awe inspired in the presence of God, but, before this, they hadn’t been afraid of God. They weren’t created to be afraid of God. But, now, they were afraid and so they hid. Of course, that is what happens when sin enters the picture. We understand how the man and the woman felt. We too know what it is like to want to hide. We too have known that sense of fear as a consequence of our sin. For example, when we sin against another person, when we either disobey them, or do something that hurts, them, the first thing we want to do is avoid that other person. When a child disobeys mom or dad, she goes into hiding. When a husband and wife have a disagreement, things get said that bring pain into the relationship and they find that they can’t even look into each other’s eyes anymore. Or how about when a person won’t even pick up the phone for fear that the friend she has hurt is calling.
This desire to go and hide doesn’t just happen in our relationships with one another, they happen in our relationship with God as well. We all find ourselves afraid of God when we have sinned. We try and hide from God, not the way that the man and woman hid from God, but, in our own way. We suddenly stop praying like we used to, or worship gets put on hold. As long as that sin remains in the relationship, the fear is present as well, serving as a barrier that divides. But, take away the sin and the fear goes with it. So, how do we take the sin away? Through forgiveness. To see how that happens, let us leave the garden behind and skip ahead in the story, all the way to the end of John’s gospel.
In our New Testament lesson this morning, we find the disciples. What are they doing? They are hiding. They are afraid. Clearly, as John tells us, they are afraid of the Jews, the same Jews who had Jesus arrested and killed. Yet, for John, I believe that the fear the disciples felt and their desire to hide carries with it a much deeper meaning. For John, as well as the other gospel writers, the disciples represent more than just themselves, they represent the whole church, the church of every generation. So, it wasn’t just the disciples hiding out in that upper room, it was all of us, hiding, afraid. And, the fear which they held onto was more than just a fear of the Jews, it was the fear that grips us all because of sin. When sin is in the picture, there is fear. Yet, notice what happens when the risen Jesus enters the picture.
At the point where we entered the story this morning, the disciples knew that something had happened to Jesus, but, they weren’t really sure what it was and what it all meant. Mary Magdalene is the only one who had actually seen the risen Lord Jesus. The rest still hadn’t seen the risen Jesus. In that sense, the risen Jesus hadn’t yet entered the picture. Yet, notice what happens when he does. Or better yet, notice the first thing that Jesus says to the disciples when he comes and stands among them in the upper room. Jesus says to them, “Peace, be with you.” And, Jesus doesn’t just say it once, he says it twice, “Peace, be with you.” In other words, what Jesus says to them is, “Don’t be afraid.”
The disciples, and therefore, we, no longer need to be afraid. Why? Because, sin has been defeated. That is what Good Friday and Easter are all about. Sin has been defeated and when you take sin out of the picture, the fear goes with it. No longer is there a reason to hide, because through Jesus, through his death and resurrection, we have been forgiven. Through the forgiveness of the cross and the empty tomb, sin has been taken out of the picture and so has our reason to be afraid. Is it any wonder then, that forgiveness becomes the central message of the church as it is sent out into the world?
I know that when we think about the central message of the church, our primary focus is usually on the gift of eternal life. The gift of eternal life is certainly the great hope that we have as followers of Jesus Christ, knowing that death will not claim us forever, instead we will live forever. But, normally, eternal life only has us thinking about the future, what happens to us after we pass through death. Yet, when Jesus told his disciples, peace be with you, in other words, do not be afraid, he was speaking to the here and now, not just to the then and there. While we tend to think of eternal life in the future tense, the message of forgiveness is very much about the present tense. Our forgiveness is right now. Our sin has been taken away right now. Right now, through forgiveness, we have no reason to be afraid of God. So, no longer do we need to hide from God. Instead, we can walk with God once again.
From the perspective of John, who wrote this gospel, what Jesus did through his death and resurrection, was to reverse what the man and the woman had done in the garden. John, very much, has the creation story in mind as he writes his gospel. Notice that in our passage this morning, John points out that when Jesus appeared to his disciples it was the first day of the week. Creation has started again. Or, to put it a better way, the new creation has begun. And, in this new creation, sin has been defeated. And so, we can, once again, walk with God. The man and the woman disobeyed God; they sinned. And, as a consequence, they found themselves afraid of God. That is why they hid. Of course, like the man and the woman, we too have sinned against God. And, if we allowed sin to stand between ourselves and God, then we too would find ourselves afraid of God, hiding from God. But, the good news is that Jesus has come to us and said, “Peace be with you.” In other words, Jesus has said to us, “Do not be afraid.” There is no longer any reason to be afraid. We can come out of hiding from God. Why? Because, we have been forgiven. Sin has been taken out of the picture. So, knowing that we have been forgiven, knowing that we have no reason to be afraid of God, let us walk with God once again. Let us walk with God in the early morning, talking with God about what we are going to do this day. Let us compare notes with God so that we can be on the same page as God, doing what God has called us to do. Let us walk with God in the evening, sharing with God all that we have done during the day. Let us walk with God with no other agenda than to simply enjoy each other’s company.