Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
People’s lives were always changed and made more interesting and fulfilling whenever they covenanted with Yahweh or the risen Jesus.
FEBRUARY 22, 2015: FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures revolve around covenants. They’re at the heart of our relationships with God and one another. At times we even refer to those two biblical collections as the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament:” the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant.”
Basically a covenant is a contract between at least two people; an agreement which not only provides the parties with certain benefits, but also sets out specific responsibilities. We can easily surface both these elements in the covenant we most frequently enter today: marriage.
As I often reminded my marriage course students, there’s only one reason to enter into such an agreement: because it makes our life a more fulfilling experience. Our sacred authors were convinced that was also true of the various biblical covenants they narrated. People’s lives were always changed and made more interesting and fulfilling whenever they covenanted with Yahweh or the risen Jesus.
Today’s Genesis reading provides us with the first of Yahweh’s biblical covenants: a post-flood contract with all human beings. “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood . . . .” Except for prohibiting people from eating meat with its “life blood” still in it, there’s no responsibilities for humans to carry out. Yahweh’s the principle party in this agreement. And just as a wedding ring is an outward sign that someone accepts the responsibilities of a marriage covenant, so the rainbow becomes a sign that Yahweh is committed to carrying out his/her responsibilities to every living creature on earth.
Other covenants will follow, especially the agreement between Abraham and Yahweh in Genesis 15, and the covenant between Yahweh and all the Israelites which took place on Mt. Sinai immediately after the Exodus.
Though we presume Jesus, as a good Jew, was committed to carrying out all the responsibilities which these covenants contained, we also presume that through his lifetime he had signed on to another covenant with Yahweh to which he was committed: an agreement to surface God working effectively in his daily life.
This seems to be what he means when he proclaims, “The kingdom of God is at hand!” in today’s gospel pericope. He’s convinced we don’t have to read another line of Scripture, say another Rosary, or participate in another Eucharist in order to experience God’s effective presence in everything we do and everyone we encounter. God’s already there.
We have just one responsibility: to “repent.” We’re not going to experience God in these ways, people and places unless we first change our value system to mirror Jesus’ value system. That’s the meaning of repentance. What he thought important, we must think important; what he put on the periphery of his life, we must put on the periphery of our lives. There’s no other way to experience God’s presence.
The remainder of the gospel simply demonstrates Jesus’ value system; outlines how we’re to repent. In Jesus’ covenant with God, people are more important than rules and regulations; one’s wealth and talents are to be used to help others, not ourselves. And he became so one with all those around him that he eventually made their sins his sins. During the Last Supper narrative in I Corinthians 11, he demands his followers agree to that same covenant by drinking from the Eucharistic cup; its outward sign.
Today’s I Peter passage refers to another sign of our acceptance of this new agreement: baptism. But the normal way we renew that covenant is by receiving from the cup at every Eucharist. Contrary to what I once learned, it’s not for “extra credit.” It’s one of the essentials of a covenant faith.
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