In fact, the whole rest of scripture - Old Testament and New - is the ongoing story of that relationship. And it's not poorer - a poorer relationship, or even a lesser one, or a damaged one. Even though generations of Adams and Eves go on breaking covenant after covenant with God, the relationship continues. We might even say it grows richer and somehow more beautiful, more loving.
We hear in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)
In the beautiful Book of Ruth, we get a glimpse of God's fidelity to us: "Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge." (Ruth 1:16)
The Psalms echo that love: "Before ever a word is on my tongue, you know it, O Lord, through and through. Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me…O, where can I run from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea's furthest end, even there your hand would lead me; your right hand would hold me fast." (Psalm 139)
"I am my beloved and my beloved is mine." (Song of Songs 6:3)
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…" (John 3:16)
"This is my body…" (Luke 22:19)
This is no longer the language of Eden. These are the words of a richer, deeper, more mature and intimate relationship.
* * *
The Church starts us off at the beginning of Lent back in Paradise, in the middle of that scene with Adam pointing at Eve and Eve pointing at the snake. She does so not to say, "Look. Here is where you are." No, too many ancestors and covenants have passed since then. Rather, she points to our childhood, our thousands-of-year-old personal history, as if to say, "Look. Here is where you have been. But where are you now?"
Each year that she reads this story to us, the Church hopes to find us somewhere new - somewhere outside the gates of Eden, further along our personal and collective path of salvation, having inherited not only the inclination to sin, but also the wisdom and graces of our ancestors.
She expects to find us somewhere closer to the Promised Land - closer to a paradise regained. Closer, that is, unless we insist on sitting like overgrown 5-year-olds, continuing to blame someone else for the weeds growing up all around us, in a place where we are still trying to call Eden - totally ignorant of the promise of a new paradise - a paradise already partially realized.
How can we possibly believe that we are still frozen in the sins of Eden if we claim to believe at all in the incarnation? For Lent is not about returning to Eden to start over again at the same moment of paradise lost. Rather, in retelling the story, the Church reminds us of where we have come from, and then she asks us to stop and take notice of where we are today, east of Eden, though still west of Heaven.
The true challenge of Lent is to calculate this year's distance - this year's distance - from where we stand to Paradise regained. What terrain is left to climb? What desert is left to wander? What still comes between us and our New Jerusalem?
In his collection of writings on the liturgical year, Adrian Nocent writes:
"This point we must insist on: The Church cannot read the narrative of creation and paradise to us without taking into account all that happened later on, any more than she can fail to remember at every moment what she is and where she comes from. She is herself both an image of paradise [paradise lost] and the beginning of paradisal fulfillment."[i]
[i] Nocent, Adrian (1977).The Liturgical Year: Lent and Holy Week. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, p 10.