Second Sunday Before Lent - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Genesis 2.4b-25; Luke 8.22-35

Into a garden close to Lambeth Palace a wife enters with a caller to find her husband in his birthday suit, naked, nude, nothing on, sitting under a tree in the sunshine reading Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’

The naked man called to his visitor standing there in amazement with his wife, ‘Come in!  Its only Adam and Eve, you know.’ The man in question was William Blake, the eighteenth century visionary and writer and painter who as a child saw the trees on Peckham Rye filled with angels.

This all happened when Blake was writing a series of poems that were collected, eventually, into one volume called ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’.  The two sections of the book, innocence and experience, contain a whole series of what are called contraries, poems which balance each other out in the terms in which he was writing.  So we have, for instance, the lovely poem ‘The Lamb’ as a song of innocence and the well known poem ‘The Tyger’ as a song of experience.

The First Lesson this afternoon was one of the two accounts that the Bible contains of creation and this one, the one that doesn’t count the days, ends in that beautiful way to which Blake was referring as he sat in the buff in his south London back garden

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

What the writer of this account of creation is at pains to point out in all that then happens, the snake and the tree and the fruit and the consequent expulsion of our first parents from the garden, from paradise, is what we call the Fall, is really about the loss of innocence which is highlighted by the verse in chapter three

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Innocence was replaced with experience, nakedness with clothing. 

The Second Lesson had another naked man in it.  This time his nakedness was a sign of his madness.  He lived amongst the tombs, raving.  Jesus comes along, sends his evil spirits into the herd of pigs who, like lemmings, run off the cliff.  The man comes to his senses and the sign of that is in the last verse

They found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.

Now I’m not advocating nakedness, nor am I condemning it.  But what we do seek is the restoration of innocence.  Of course, in one sense it’s impossible.  Once you lose your innocence you can never regain it and the theft of innocence from a young child is a tragedy.  Blake could, of course, have read Milton’s other work, his parallel text, ‘Paradise Regained’ which looks to our restoration in Christ.  For whilst we can’t regain innocence we can regain a state of grace.  All is not lost.

This is the Second Sunday before Lent, Sexagesima, and Ash Wednesday will be soon upon us.  So it’s the time to think about how we enter that season of repentance and one way to do that is by making our confession, to a priest, in our prayers, however we think will work for us.  Experience can leave us with a burden of sin, but God in Christ removes that burden and restores something of our innocence, our baptismal grace as we stand, metaphorically, naked before God, as we are, full of experience and questing that lost innocence.

The Fall is not the last word, as we will see when Lent becomes Holy Week and we’re taken to another tree and another garden.  ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ Jesus says to the thief crucified beside him – and he says the same to us.