Forgiveness Sunday

On this last Sunday of the period known as the Triodion we face the final judgment of Adam and his eventual expulsion from paradise. We read the story in the Book of Genesis how Adam was tempted by the Devil and eat from the Tree of Knowledge and when God found out that Adam had sinned, God’s punishment was to throw him out of the Garden of Eden. We know that Garden to be Paradise.
You see prior to Adam’s sin, he walked with God in, as the Liturgy says, a garden of delight. Man was tempted and fell into sin and his punishment was that separation from God, both physical and spiritual. Man was physically separated from God by his expulsion from paradise and spiritually for the same reason.

The hymns of Vespers that we sang last night tell the story in Adam’s own words;

The Lord took a handful of dust from the earth.
He breathed into it, and created me, a living man.
He made me lord and master of all things on earth;
truly I enjoyed the life of the Angels.
But Satan the deceiver tempted me in the guise of a serpent;
I ate the forbidden fruit and forfeited the glory of God.
Now I have been delivered to the earth through death.
O my compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!

Prior to man’s sin humanity was in a perfect state of being. That same state that we will return to in the resurrection. In the funeral hymns of the Church we sing and pray that the departed is in a place of green pasture where pain, sorrow and sighing have been driven away.

When the Enemy tempted me,
I disobeyed Your command, O Lord.
I exchanged the glory of my mortal body for shame and nakedness.
Now I must wear garments of skins and fig-leaves;
I am condemned to eat the bread of bitter hardship by the sweat of my brow.
The earth is cursed and brings forth thorns and husks for me.
O Lord, You took on flesh from the Virgin in the fullness of time;
call me back and restore me to Eden!

As the hymns continue Adam comes to the full realization of what he has done. Tradition tells us that Adam and Eve sat outside the gates of the garden for a long period of time. They did not know what to do, they could not go back into the garden, as it was being guarded, and they did not know how to fend for themselves as all of their needs were met in paradise. Now they are on the outside looking in and in Adam’s own words he weeps for what he has lost;

O Paradise, garden of delight and beauty,
dwelling-place made perfect by God,
unending gladness and eternal joy,
the hope of the prophets and the home of the saints,
by the music of your rustling leaves beseech the Creator of all
to open the gates which my sins have closed,
that I may partake of the Tree of Life and Grace
which was given to me in the beginning!

Then, the hymns take a turn and it is no longer the voice of Adam but our voice;

Adam was exiled from Paradise through disobedience;
he was driven from eternal bliss, deceived by the words of Eve;
he sat naked and weeping before the gates of Paradise.
Let us hasten to enter the season of fasting;
let us carefully obey the Gospel commands,
that we may be made acceptable to Christ our God,
and regain our home in Eden!

We have heard time and again what that Gospel command is, Love of God and Love of Neighbor. And now today we add another dimension to that, forgiveness. Today we also celebrate if you will the Sunday of forgiveness. The Church, in her wisdom, has given us the opportunity to enter the season of Great Lent with a clean slate. We have the time to ask for and to give forgiveness for all the things that we have done to each other. Words that were said, words that were not said. Maybe a promise broken, or a task left undone. We have the ability to ask and to give forgiveness on this day. Forgive us our trespasses or the better word in this case is debts, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors! Do not let the time pass without asking for and for giving forgiveness, and don’t forget to forgive yourself!

The hymns continue;

Adam sat before the gates of Eden,
bewailing his nakedness and crying out:
“Woe to me! I have listened to wicked deceit;
I have lost my glory, and now am driven away!
Woe to me! My open-mindedness has left me naked and confused!
No longer will I enjoy your delights, O Paradise;
no longer can I see my Lord, my God and Creator.
He formed me from dust, and now to the dust I return!
I beg You, O compassionate Lord:
‘Have mercy on me who have fallen!’”

Adam sat bewailing! What an awesome word. He was not bewailing his physical nakedness but his spiritual nakedness. He had been stripped of everything and he is now separated from paradise. He has come to the full realization of what his actions have caused him.

But Adam’s words are our own for we too are spiritually naked and confused. Our sins have separated us from the garden of delight, but unlike Adam, we have a way back.
Over the next weeks of Great Lent we will hear more of this and we will also hear of the way back. Great Lent is a time for us to remove that confusion and separation from our lives. It is a time for us to thrown open the windows of our souls and clean out those old hurts and unresolved issues that we all carry with us. It is a time to focus not on what the world wants of us but of what God wants of us.
Do not be like Adam and leave yourself outside the gates of paradise bewailing what is lost. Do not be like the Prodigal Son who squandered his inheritance, do not be like the Pharisee who only goes through the motions and judges the actions of others. Be like Zacchaeus, and climb to the top of our spirituality so we can see Jesus and what he has to offer us. Use this Great Lent to get back on track and make your life different.
Adam has told us what will happen if we do not do this. It’s time to pay attention!

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