This day we are poised on the threshold of the season of Lent, that 40-day journey of soul and body for those who choose to take it. This journey of Lent is a picture in miniature of our passage through the life of this world. We are born, thrust into this life, and we strive and struggle forward until we rest from our labors. In order for our life to have meaning beyond the seeming futility of the never-ending cycle of birth and death, our journey has to take on another dimension, a different destination other than the grave.
As Christians, we are restored to everlasting life despite the grave. Lent is a season of restoration of purpose which we lost but regain through repentance, faith, and love. Standing at the beginning of this journey, we understand why repentance is necessary, and we understand why all our efforts are worth it. We were expelled from the life of paradise and cast into this mortal existence because of our own sin, AND we are restored to the joys of paradise through the forgiveness of that sin. In Christ Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are re-oriented toward God our Father’s heavenly home.
God said to Adam, the first man, "Because you heeded the voice of your wife, and ate from the one tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it,' cursed is the ground in your labors…Earth you are, and to earth you shall return"…
So He cast out Adam, and made him dwell opposite the garden of pleasure. He then stationed the cherubim and the fiery sword which turns every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:17, 19, 24). Such is our lot in this life. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust (1 Cor. 15:48). [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because (of which) all sinned… (Rom. 3:23; 5:12).
St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th cent.) wrote that after having committed the first sin, and having hidden from God in shame and fear, Adam would have been fully restored to paradise had he repented when God called out to him (see Gen. 3:1-9). But Adam did not repent; instead, he blamed his wife, Eve, and God Himself for his sin, excusing and justifying himself. This is the pattern we all fall into regarding our sins: doing our own will even when we know that contradicts God’s commands, and then making excuses for our disobedience in an effort to justify our own pridefulness, often at the expense of other people.
God wanted Adam and Eve to repent. He would have completely forgiven their transgression. Now we are seemingly trapped in this same predicament of self-will and self-love inherited from our first parents, yet the solution is the same: we need to repent and be forgiven by God. Our journey in life need not end in death but lead back to paradise. It is for this purpose that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). [A]s is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (1 Cor. 15:48-49). [A]s sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21).
We call this day before Lent "Forgiveness Sunday." We begin at the end so that every day of our journey might be a new beginning in the compassion, love, and grace of God given us in Jesus Christ the new Man. The forgiveness of sins is not a bare wiping away of the debt of sin (so that we can just go out and do it again, etc.). The forgiveness of sins – if it is real – is both the pledge and guarantee of a different way of life turned back to the conduct of paradise. You who love the Lord, hate evil (Ps. 96:10). "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:12, 15). In the Church we remember both our mortal heritage of failure and enmity, and we attempt to realize our immortal calling made possible in Christ. This marvelous transformation becomes ours as we join our will to that of God’s who gives us all things in His love.