1st Sunday in Lent – Vicar Bartelt

Tragedy and Comedy

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

When it comes to reading Shakespeare, it almost ruins the story to know whether you’re reading a tragedy or a comedy because each has a very predictable outcome. If you’re reading a tragedy like Hamlet, then you’re guaranteed to end with a ballroom full of bodies, Hamlet, Ophelia, Mom, Dad, and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern which is a little gratuitous in my mind. They weren’t that bad! But this is always how tragedies end. The stench of death lingers heavily over the stage. By contrast comedies are filled with mirth and merriment from acts I-IV and act V always takes the cake, and usually quite literally with a wedding cake. Joy and laughter are brought to their consummation as man and wife enjoy theirs. And even comedies where this seems most unlikely, like Taming of the Shrew, love, laughter, and joy always triumph.

In many ways, the tale of Genesis 3 fits the trope of a Shakespearian tragedy and since it’s a tragedy we know where it ends. But it starts with the divine service. God works day and night for his beloved mankind, crafting water and earth, light and darkness, fruits and vegetables, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all the creepy things on the ground. Finally, at the height of God’s liturgy, we hear the first hebrew poem that God wrote and it’s about us. “So God created man in his image; in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” God gets down into the dirt, takes up the clay in his hands, forms the Man, and breathes into him His own life-giving Spirit. And to the man he gifts all the good things that he created that we heard so often it said “It is good.”

But alarmingly enough we hear that something isn’t good. It’s not good for the Man to be alone. After parading all creation before the Man, God causes him to fall into a deep sleep and when he wakes up we hear the second poem of creation, this time from the Man about the Woman. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” In english we hear the same joke that appears in the hebrew which is delightful: in english the only difference between men and women is “whoa” and in hebrew the difference between men and women, ish and isha, is “aahhh”. A joke to be sure, but what’s no joke is Adam’s love for Eve. She is his everything, the apple of his eye, the most beautiful creature of all, perfectly suited to be his helper.

His helper in what though? The hebrew of Genesis makes no hiding of the fact that Adam’s duties for creation are high priestly duties, to guard and to keep Eden. So if you want to think of Adam and Eve as the first Pastor and Congregation, you’d be right in line with what Luther says; that it was Adam’s job to preach to his wife, to catechize her in the rudiments of the faith. It was his job to walk through creation and show her God’s Law and God’s Gospel, false worship and right worship. That there is a tree in the middle of the garden called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree we are not supposed to eat of because God threatened us that, “In the day you eat of it you will surely die.” Instead we set up our altar at the Tree of Life. We flee from the Tree of Knowledge and run to the Tree of Life to worship God there by receiving anew his daily and rich gifts which are completely gratuitous. Here at the Tree of Life we can walk with God hand in hand, talk with him, and just enjoy his presence. Perfectly united to him in a Divine Service.

A perfectly joyous, peaceful, and lovely situation, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” But as Shakespearian tragedy writers it is a situation we are dying to ruin. Enter Serpent. Enter Eve with Adam trailing after her. And the deadly words: “Did God really say?” And here we have the first Black Mass, a perversion, a parody of God’s Divine service. Instead of receiving with thanksgiving the gifts of God, Eve reaches up and takes what is not given to her. Eve becomes the priestess of her own demonic service and, in a great reversal, Adam becomes the first member of this new church, no longer the head. From here we move to a new scene: Man on trial. And despite all of Man’s attempts to shift the blame around, the gavel finally falls. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” End Act IV. Curtain closes on death.

As sinful children of Adam and Eve we daily replay this divine tragedy. A tragedy in which we daily fall, daily take what is not given to us, daily pervert the divine service of God with our own invented works, daily try to shift the blame and make ourselves a victim instead of the perpetrators of sin, but a tragedy in which the sentence always falls: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

But our story from Genesis and our story in the present doesn’t end in absolute tragedy. We do get a tiny glimpse, a little foreshadowing of what is to come and it comes in the humble form of a promise: “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head and you shall bite his heel.” Here, already in the midst of God’s cursing the devil, humanity, and the earth, he is already delivering a promise. A promise that there will be an Act V and that despite our current tragic situation this will end as a divine comedy.

How will this happen? Interestingly enough, through the bloodshed of our tragic end. The original way of speaking about the work of Christ, according to Genesis 3:15, is a bloody one, one that involves pain, suffering, and death. It involves taking on the burden of becoming a man, taking the place of Adam and Eve, and conquering Satan, that dragon of old, once and for all. And so we see Christ in our Gospel lesson, not as a helpless man wandering about, but as the captain of YHWH’s army, as our rear guard, as the the seed, as angel of Death, as the burning pillar of fire by day, and our Divine Warrior. And he has come in his earthly ministry to wage war, not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and powers that bound us. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God saved the people of Israel and with outstretched arms Jesus goes to the cross to do final battle with death, the law, all the dread armies of the Devil so that we might be freed from their tyranny and once again brought into God’s kingdom, back to the Garden, to walk with him as sons and daughters.

While we are on this earth, as baptized children of God, we daily do battle with the devil. But in our struggles we are not alone. We have a champion who fights for us. Who lifts us up when we fall, who forgives when we sin, who takes our tragedy and turns it into comedy, and who has promised to bring us to that good land again where we rejoice at the marriage feast which has no end as the bride of Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

About Vicar Bartelt

Philip Bartelt is currently working to attain a master’s in Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University, Irvine where he studied Theology, Philosophy, and Biblical Languages. He is devoted to the historic liturgy and subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions including the Formula of Concord articles V and VI. He is married to Jaclyn and father to Anastasia. Together they enjoy movies, books, theatre, and art.

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