As we approach Pascha, I continue to marvel at St. John’s description of Christ in Revelation 13, as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It is a Death before death. This is the Death by which death will be trampled down.
The warning given in Genesis to the man and the woman is clear regarding the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “In the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” Death enters the world at their breaking of the commandment. It is the death that leads to death.
There are other things about this tree and its fruit that are of note. When Eve sees the fruit, she sees that it is “good for food,” and a “delight to the eyes,” and “able to make one wise.” These things are true, but her perception of them was distorted. For the food that she saw can only leave you hungry and its beauty only feeds the desire of the passions. The wisdom it grants is simply that of this world. All of these are components of the death that she will die and the life that we now live.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? (Isa 55:2)
But the Tree was meant to carry something different a fruit that was not yet in due season. It was not time for Eve to approach that tree, for it was not yet given to us for food. The world had to wait for a far distant time and for a Second Eve for the hour of the Tree to be revealed.
At a wedding in Cana of Galilee, Christ is together with his disciples, enjoying what some traditions hold is a wedding for one of the twelve (Nathaniel). His mother is in attendance and is told that they have run out of wine. She goes to her son to seek His help. And an interesting conversation takes place:
And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what is this between you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (Joh 2:3-5)
She knows who He is, and she knows something of what must come (for she had pondered all these things in her heart for years). He offers a simple warning, “My hour has not yet come.” What hour does He mean? It is the time, at last, for the Tree to be made manifest. The Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world will be manifest as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world – and “a sword will pierce her own soul as well.” (Lk 2:35)
Just as the angel Gabriel had proclaimed God’s good news to her at the beginning, awaiting her humble, “Be it unto me according to your word,” so now, a question is being placed again, for her answer this time has the power to set everything in an inexorable motion.
It is as if Chrisst says, “If I do this thing that you are asking, then it will not stop until my hour is reached. Are you ready to see this through?”
Her answer acquiesces to His will, even as she yielded herself before. “If it is your will, then it is mine” – “Whatever He says to you, do it.” And the first miracle is performed and the marriage feast of the Lamb which will be fulfilled in Jerusalem begins.
The Feast whose hour has now come resets the table (the Tree) that the first Eve beheld in the Garden. But the Tree is in its proper and due season. This is the Feast that God has set, and the Eve for whom it has been prepared.
The first Eve saw the fruit and thought that it was “good for food.” It was not, for it was a banquet of death. But the heavenly fruit that will hang on this Tree is indeed “good to eat.”
“My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (Joh 6:55).
The first Eve thought that the fruit of the Tree was a “delight to the eyes.” What she saw we do not know, but we are deeply familiar with false beauty, divorced from God. Our own perversions celebrate beauty objectified, altered and edited to produce greater and greater desire and pleasure, enslaving all who see it.
The delight and beauty of the fruit that the Second Eve saw was truly hidden.
He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (Isa 53:2)
And yet she desires Him above all. In the texts of Good Friday Vespers we hear:
When she saw you, O Christ, the Creator and God of all, hanging on the Cross, she who bore you without seed, cried bitterly: My Son, where has the beauty of your form departed? I cannot bear to see you unjustly crucified; hasten then, arise, that I too may see your resurrection from the dead on the third day.
Along with the other Myrhhbearers, she adored His lifeless body. Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Him for burial:
The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, anointed it with spices and placed it in his own new tomb.
The first Eve thought the fruit of that Tree was able to make her wise. But she found a false wisdom, nothing more than the cunning deceptions of the enemy. The Second Eve saw the Crucified Christ, and recognized Him as the Power and Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).
It is interesting to note that St. Paul does not describe the first Eve as disobedient, but deceived. (1 Tim. 2:14). She saw the Tree but could not discern its wisdom and power and ate in a state of deception.
I think that seeing and understanding the beauty and desirability of Christ Crucified is perhaps the most difficult of all spiritual undertakings. We either create an abstraction in our minds and reduce that terrible reality to little more than a cipher for our ideas, or we quickly dismiss it as but an afternoon’s horrendous and painful suffering that was soon passed.
But the Crucified predates even the creation of the world and has always encompassed all suffering, sorrow and sin. In perhaps the single most stinging critique of God and human suffering ever written, Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov describes his anguish to his brother:
I do understand how the universe will tremble when all in heaven and under the earth merge in one voice of praise, and all that lives and has lived cries out: ‘Just art thou, 0 Lord, for thy ways are revealed!’ … I want to forgive, and I want to embrace, I don’t want more suffering. And if the suffering of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole of truth is not worth such a price.
His detailed, revolting descriptions of suffering children (drawn from actual news accounts of the time) seem to be an unacceptable price for any goodness they might bring about. He is absolutely right. We do not and have not suffered for the sake of some later, greater good.
We suffer because we have distanced ourselves from God and plunged ourselves and our world (including innocent children) into the corruption of death. It would be an unthinkable and unbearable reality were it the price of some other thing. What good is worth the suffering of a child? But the fearful beauty hidden in the Knowledge of Good and Evil was too great for Eve and too great for Ivan Karamazov as well. That beauty is the love of God, by which and in which He unites Himself with all human suffering and sorrow. He became sin, we are told (2 Cor. 5:21) that we might become His righteousness. So Ivan sees only human sin, while the Mother of God sees the righteousness of Christ – love that unites itself to our sorrow that our sorrow might become Divine joy. It is not joy that is bought with a price, but sorrow that is redeemed at a price.
It is not reasonable. But it is good and desirable and able to make us wise. It is the feast of our Passover.