In the Name…
Two hunters got lost in the woods. One said to the other, “Don’t worry. We just have to shoot three times in the air and someone will find us.” So, he did, but no one came. After a while, the other hunter also shot three times, but no one came. The first hunter then said, “I’ll try again, but this time I’ll need to borrow one of your arrows.”
In 1947, a passenger plane was making its way over the Andes Mountains through high winds, poor visibility and extremely stormy conditions. The pilot radioed that he could see the lights of the airport and was beginning to make his descent. The plane never arrived. Despite an intense search, it was never found.
Sixty years later, a hundred miles to the north and east of the airport, a climber found an airplane wheel sticking out of a glacier. He had discovered the wreckage, nowhere near where the pilot had said he was. The subsequent investigation revealed the tragedy of what must have happened. In those pre-satellite days, pilots used their airspeed and fuel consumption as a navigational aid. That night, however, there had been extraordinarily strong headwinds so the plane had not gone as far west as the pilots calculated. They turned south too early and, instead of having cleared the mountains, flew straight into one. Moonlight on the ice was what they mistook for runway lights.
I can imagine those in the control tower that night frantically leaning over their instruments and calling into their headsets, “Come in. Where are you? Please respond. Where are you?” And waiting, praying and hoping for some kind of response.
This question, though, “Where are you?” is not a new question. It was first voiced in the Garden of Eden. In fact, it’s the first question the Scriptures record as having been spoken by God. But, it was not the first question posed in Scripture. That honour belongs to the serpent - “Did God really tell you not to eat from the trees in the garden”
Eve fumbled her answer to that question badly and the next moment she found she had disobeyed God's command and had encouraged Adam to do the same. And so, that evening, as they heard God approaching, they hid from God among the trees.
One writer has suggested that the serpent was the first theologian because it was the first creature to trade obedience to God for speculation about God. And it’s true, to an extent. The text even suggests this to be the case, using a bit of Hebrew word play. The word for crafty or cunning - the word used to describe the serpent - is ‘arum. Interestingly enough, the word for nakedness is ‘arom. In some ways, the text is suggesting that our attempts at cunning, our attempts at understanding who we are apart from engaging with the divine, leave us naked.
This is one of the reasons I love the Collect for Purity - that prayer Anglicans have been saying at the start of liturgies since the mid-1500s. “Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” It doesn’t say anything about being naked but it absolutely embodies the image of standing naked before God because it says God knows our hearts, our minds, and our inmost secrets.
And while at one level this is terrifying, at another level it is a source of great freedom and comfort. We don’t have to be anything other than ourselves in our relationship with God. Actually, we can’t be anything other than ourselves in our relationship with God for God loves us precisely for who we are in all of our goodness and in all of our sinfulness. And that is the great blessing of our faith.
Alastair Cook tells the story that the comedian Groucho Marx was once leaving a restaurant when a woman came up and asked him, "Excuse me, sir, but, would you be Groucho Marx?" With his impish smile he snappily replied, "Easily, Madam. I am Groucho Marx. Now, who else would you like me to be?"
Who are we, indeed? But, perhaps the relevant question is Whose are we?
There’s a wonderful old hymn which we probably all know - “I come to the garden alone” and it really makes that point, that God is not some impersonal concept or uninterested deity high up and far away. No, just like the Genesis text, the hymn says that God was present from the beginning, walking and talking with the humans and telling them they – we - are his own. Because God desires closeness with us - not distance. We were the ones who turned from that.
And, that’s really what the story of The Fall is. It’s not about breaking a rule about a tree; it’s about choosing to turn away from a relationship. Which is why, when we get to the tragic comedy as Adam blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent and the serpent decides it now doesn’t know how to talk, that most of us get a little uncomfortable.
But, God has not given up calling “Where are you?” Just as we have not given up on hiding. Indeed, people of the 21stC have developed very inventive abilities in hiding from God. People hide in their business and their work, their children and their homes and they claim all these as reasons they have no time to come out of the bushes and meet God. Other people hide in their own cleverness - they don't need God; they can look after themselves. And some people hide by saying that what God and the church have to offer doesn’t ‘do’ anything for them, it doesn’t give them a buzz so it’s not worth the trouble.
Even we, who have been in the church all or most of our lives, and who know God well, can feel this urge within us to want to run away from God.
That’s why we need to remember that God is looking for us for the same reason he was looking for Adam and Eve. Not to punish them; he came looking to help them. Our Father doesn't want us to lurk and sulk in the shadows, hiding from him. Because of Jesus, God changes us from enemies into friends, reassuring us of forgiveness and of his continual love and support in our daily lives.
So, as we come to celebrate the Eucharist, as we take in our hands the Body of Christ and drink from the Cup, we stand in awe of what our God has done for us to enable us to be friends again. As we come here to this place of worship our loving God comes seeking us out, just as he went out looking for Adam and Eve, ready to forgive the repentant and ready to give us the Holy Spirit to help us make a fresh start.
The question remains: "Where are you?" Have we replied, "Here I am. Can we walk?"
In the Name…