As personal as it gets

Giotto_Lower_Church_Assisi_Crucifixion_01“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their [ancestors]..for they broke my covenant, …this is the covenant that I will make…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31)

Way back in the day, before this life as a Franciscan, I was helping out with a teen ministry program at my parish. I will always remember one comment a young women made – the topic is not relevant (and not so well remembered) – but her last words stuck with me: “It’s not like I have a contract with God or anything.”

Contract: an agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a some consideration, often an exchange of goods and services. A contract includes: a) an offer; b) an acceptance of that offer; c) a promise to perform; d) a valuable consideration; f) terms and conditions for performance, including fulfilling promises; g) and the execution of all the above. Contracts are hardly personal. I have signed contracts for car loans without ever meeting the bank representatives. And I signed an apartment rental contracts and never met the actual property owners. Who cares? It’s business right? Did everyone get what they agreed to?

Contract with God? No, we are in Covenant with God. Covenants are not contracts. Covenants define the deepest of relationships – for example in the Catholic Church we never speak of the marriage contract – we speak of the marriage covenant. Not an exchange of goods and services, but an exchange of persons: “I give myself to you without condition or reservation. I give myself to you completely.” It’s not business at all – it’s as personal as it gets.

The making of Old Testament covenants was personal. They were marked by the pouring out of blood. Blood was considered to be that which contained the life force – and that belonged always to God. So when God made a covenant with Israel on Sinai, Moses took half the blood of the sacrifice that ratified the covenant and sprinkled it on the people so they would be stained, literally, with the blood of the covenant. That they would be marked with the life force of God – they would be deeply bonded with God. It was intended to be quite personal.

Yet, the people of Israel, broke their covenant with God. They broken the covenants made with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. And yet, God renewed the covenant. You have to question how bonded or committed we were to the Covenants, but despite ourselves, God remains deeply bonded to us.

As Jeremiah says in the first reading, The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant. As the Gospel says, the hour is here – the whole world is being drawn to Jesus – it is time to make a new covenant. This new covenant will go to the heart of it all. It will be a covenant which binds all people, an entire world to God. It will be personal and there will be the pouring out of blood to seal the covenant.

When Jesus announces the new covenant at the Last Supper, we see its depth: when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Again the blood poured out, but this time it is the Divine Life itself – the Blood of the new covenant. It is personal. It is meant to bind and bond you and me to Christ – like a marriage. Each time we celebrate Eucharist it is like our anniversary. The moment we remember and we fulfill one of Jesus’ commands: Do this in memory of me. It’s personal. Jesus has proposed an eternal love to us. We just have to say yes…. and understand that in that “yes” there is covenant, a bonding of love – and love has its demands: “Amen, amen, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces great fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me.”

It is like the marriage vows: “I give myself to you without condition or reservation. I give myself to you completely.” Jesus has said it already – but have we? Pick up our cross and follow. Die to self. Offer it up. We have lots of phrases which point to the demands of love, the proposal of the covenant, and that point to the paradox.

Here is a paradox: the new covenant is given absolutely freely as gift, yet it costs us nothing less than everything we are. I give myself to you Lord without reservation; I covenant myself to you.

When you come to receive the Eucharist today – the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ – you come to again renew your covenant with God – to be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. It’s personal. It should cost you everything…. Everything.

As St. Francis said, Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself so He who gave himself completely for you, may receive you completely

Amen

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