Of Fig Leaves & Sewing Needles


Inspired by Genesis 3:8–21 as found in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W

This might be too old of a sci-fi reference but some of you might remember the show Lost in Space from the mid to late ’60s. That was before my time but I remember watching reruns as a kid and hearing this famous line from it, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” The Robot would say that whenever it detected any source of harm, especially around the youngest child, Will. Wouldn’t that be nice to have a robot like that for our lives? Especially as a parent of teenagers, it would have been nice to send them with a robot that would alert them of danger when we weren’t around to do that for them. And not just danger, but maybe even the possible bad decisions! How awesome would that be! Well, for the parents anyway. This is kind of how this story from Genesis operates for us. Let me explain.

As we read last week, the woman and the man had just eaten from the tree that God had instructed them not to, they realized they were naked, and so they covered themselves up with fig leaves. Not a long-term solution by any means but they were afraid, and people who are afraid don’t always make the best decisions. So there they were, hiding in the garden, fig leaves blowing in the wind, and what do they hear? God taking a stroll through the garden, calling out for them, “Where are you?” Quick side note here, notice that God’s omniscience, God’s all-knowingness, and God’s omnipresence, God’s ability to be everywhere at once, are not in play here. In this story, God does not know where they are, and God is in some kind of physical form, in only one place at a time, as we humans know all too well.

Oddly enough, our faith ancestors were ok with that! But we don’t have time to go down that rabbit hole so let’s keep moving. God finds them and discovers what they had done. What gave them away? Those darn fig leaves! The fact that they were hiding their appearance and their selves from God was the telltale sign that they had done wrong. And isn’t that human nature? When we know we’ve done wrong, we hide, we withdraw, or we just straight-up run. And sometimes we do that physically, but we can also do that emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. We humans have discovered all kinds of ways to withdraw with our guilt in tow, rather than face the music. After hearing what they had done, God hands out some curses, but not to whom you’re expecting! God curses the snake, and the ground, but not them!

Did you notice that? Oh, they don’t get off scot-free, to be sure, but the author doesn’t use the word “curse” in reference to the woman or the man. I find that pretty darn fascinating! They get their fair share of consequences doled out to them but they both are able to leave that garden without being labeled as “cursed.” Why is that important? Because if they walked outside of that garden cursed, then we walk outside that garden cursed! And that just wouldn’t do, not for our God. Life was already going to be hard enough as it was without us having to also carry around the label of being cursed. And besides that, it’s just not the way of our God, and it never has been. This story flies in the face of this lingering idea that somehow the God of the Hebrew scriptures was different somehow, angrier, more vengeful, more strict, etc.

The reality is, God has been a God of grace and mercy since day one! And that has never changed! Humans have certainly tried to make God out to be those other things when it suited them, even in scripture we see that. But the God of love and compassion that we have come to know through Christ has always been there. Sometimes you just need to weed through all the human redactions to get at the original truths that lie beneath, to get to the heart of God. And the heart of God shines brightest in the very last verse of our Genesis reading, “And God made garments of skins for the woman and her man, and clothed them.” That doesn’t sound like an angry God to me. It’s easy for us to read the preceding consequences in an angry tone of voice, or worse yet, a parental disappointed voice!

But this action of making clothes for them, doesn’t sound like the action of someone who is angry. Maybe a better tone of voice to read this with might simply be a tone of sadness. The way a parent is sad when their child makes some regrettable decisions and there’s nothing the parent can do about it. Kids are gonna be kids. But that parent’s love never wanes. Quite the opposite in fact, that love produces compassion and empathy. And that’s what I see here in this tender scene between God and Eve and Adam. In her book, This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley writes,

“On the day the world began to die, God became a seamstress. This is the moment in the Bible that I wish we talked about more often. When Eve and Adam eat from the tree, and decay and despair begin to creep in, when they learn to hide from their own bodies, when they learn to hide from each other—no one ever told me the story of a God who kneels and makes clothes out of animal skin for them. I remember many conversations about the doom and consequence imparted by God after humans ate from that tree. I learned of the curses, too, and could maybe even recite them. But no one ever told me of the tenderness of this moment. It makes me question the tone of everything that surrounds it. In the garden, when shame had replaced Eve’s and Adam’s dignity, God became a seamstress.”

If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it. Certainly my favorite book of last year, and quite possibly the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. When we are at our lowest, when we are at our most guilt-ridden, when all we can do is hang our head in shame, when punishment seems to be our only future, God is there to clothe us in grace and love, with a compassionate heart that just can’t be matched. This story serves two purposes for us. To warn us of danger, that this life is fraught with peril, both from outside and from within. And also that God will not only be there through it all, but will be there with sewing machine in tow, ready to clothe us. May you hear the gentle hum of God’s sewing machine this Lent, my friends, wherever this season leads you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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