Covenant has been theme of our Lenten journey here at St. Mary. Every Sunday we’ve been hearing stories about the covenant between God and his people. We’ve been reading in the Old Testament scriptures about the solemn, unbreakable agreement between two parties, God and humanity, each party promising to do something for the benefit of the other.
- Noah is saved from a flood and God promises to never destroy humans, again, giving the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of the covenant. Genesis 9:8-15
- Abraham’s trust of God to be faithful to a covenant to give him many dependents is put to the test and is asked to kill his only son. Genesis 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18
- Ten commandments were given as the terms of the covenant with God saying do this I’ll keep you alive, you, make me the center of your life! Exodus 20:1-17
- But the people don’t keep their end of the agreement and discovered what happens when you break covenant with God —- a whole nation is sent into exile deprived of the life they were accustomed to and the ability to even worship God properly, a death sentence. 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
- Finally we heard that God, out of love, can’t bear to give up on his agreement to give his people a better life even when people can’t seem to live up to the expectations asked of them. God decides to enter into a new kind of covenant. This new covenant is not rules written on stone, or signs in the sky of the rainbow’s diffused light. Now God will write the covenant of his love in flesh and blood. Jeremiah 31:31-34
As Christians we understand that God is talking about his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the sign that God, out of love, wants humans to live, not die! Not by following rules will humans be saved from death but by knowing another person, by being one with another human who can do what God’s wants, namely total commitment to God revealed in the way of Jesus’ living and dying.
The covenants made between humans in biblical times were often sealed (you could say, signed) in blood. Somehow the blood of animals was usually involved. A goat would have it’s neck slit. Blood of oxen would be sprinkled on the gathered people. Why blood? It was a way of saying blood is life! If I don’t live up to my end of the agreement I might as well be dead. This covenant will give me a fuller life. Blood was a sign of how serious the two parties considered their agreement, and because some animal had to lose it’s life something of value was sacrificed. Covenants were seen as matters of life and death, so something dies to make life possible.
Tonight we begin our annual three-day ritual of remembrance of how serious God is about keeping his end of the agreement to give us life. Each year we hear the story of the blood of lambs being smeared on the doors of our ancestors the night they were liberated from slavery to begin a new life, a sign that they were people of the covenant and death should pass them by. Tonight we hear from St. Paul how Jesus gave us a new sign of the covenant, “This is MY blood, shed for you as a sign of the covenant.” Not animal blood, Jesus’ own blood now becomes the sign of God’s promise to us that death will have no power over us.
Now, most people would say all this talk of blood is “gross” or disgusting. We fear blood outside of a human body because it can transmit disease and we fear contamination. You know, Jesus shedding his blood on the cross wasn’t pretty or pleasant, either. Crucifixion was down right horrifying besides being very bloody. Yet this is what we give thanks for in each and every Eucharist. Jesus shed his blood, his life, so that we who are members of his body would not see death destroy us forever.
Thankfully Jesus has given us a way to be transfused, so to speak, with his life blood. In a sacramental, mysterious way, Jesus has made it possible for us to be “signers on” to God’s covenant promise to hold us in life by enabling us to take into our selves his blood in a non-repulsive way under the form of wine, a drink that brings joy and lightness of being to humans. “Every time, then that you eat this bread and drink this cup” you partake of his life, you agree to the terms of the covenant. The chalice of the Eucharist is his blood, given so that we might live, so that we might be renewed again and again in the solemn promise of God to give us life and that we might remember we owe God our love for He has loved us dying on the cross we celebrate these three days. (How can we even think of not drinking from the chalice and pass it by at communion? This is our acceptance of the covenant that saves!)
How do we keep our part of this deal where God gives eternal life? We shed our blood (not literally, though Christian martyrs have shed blood, including Coptic Christians recently slain by ISIS terrorists or the university students killed just this morning in Kenya when they were identified as Christian instead of Muslims by The Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militant group) we give some of our life for the sake of others having a better life. We do what Jesus did, in his memory. Not just pray over bread and wine, we take on the role of servant so powerfully proclaimed in the washing of feet. Again, the ritual is symbol meant to transmit a message. Not an instruction to literally wash feet outside of this room, but to sacrifice in the manner of Jesus for others.
- Like a mom and dad who, out of love for children and each other, works at a job and then does the laundry, the cooking, the caring of a sick child while sick themselves. Family living is living out the covenant and ritual of foot washing.
- Like priests and vowed religious who forgo the intimate love of one person so that they are more available to serve the spiritual and earthly needs of the people they serve
- Like people who give up a few things so that they can put money in a Rice Bowl or buy a few extra food items so that those who can’t afford enough food have something to eat and live another day.
Sacrifice of self is foot washing. Being a selfless servant to others is signing the covenant with God in our “Blood” by giving up some of our life so that others can live.
The covenant of God and humanity wasn’t just entered into long ago in Old Testament times or in an upper room and a hill outside Jerusalem with the shedding of blood of an innocent man. God enters into solemn agreement once again in the present, with us, who sacramentally eat the Body and drink the blood of Jesus and who then wash the feet of others. Death will not destroy us. Christ is risen. We who are united to him will rise, too, because God never, never reneges on his word, for his Word is Jesus Christ.