The days are surely 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 that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Courtesy of The John Rylands University Library of Manchester -- a Greek loan contract, c.99 B.C.E.
One of the historical themes of Lent is that the Christ Event -- the birth, life, ministry, sacrifice on the Cross and resurrection on Easter of Jesus of Nazareth --is a renewal of the covenant that God established with Israel.
A covenant is simply a contract between two parties. Covenants emerged with civilization in ancient times. The document in the photo above is a loan covenant/contract from the Greek Empire dating about a century before Jesus's birth.
From very early stages of Judaism, it was believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had established a covenant with the people known by Jacob's covenental name of "Israel." In much of the Old testament, this covenant between God and Israel was described in very legalistic ways that would have been recognizable as "covenental" or "contract" language. However, by the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the notion of covenant took on a much deeper meaning that centered on faith, not simply law or economics..
For Jeremiah, the language of covenant was a common and direct way to describe the holiness and power of God, and particularly of God's steadfast love of Israel. As a form of covenant, it, therefore, also described Israel's responsibility to love and obey God.
To make his point, Jeremiah described the covenant as being "written on the hearts" of believers, establishing a holy bond. It is this bond that should lie at the center (the "heart") of faith.
photo by Jametline Reskp on Unsplash
Christianity embraced this notion of a Covenant between God and the Church--the body of Christ. The use of covenant language is familiar to those who have been worshipping with the United Church of Colchester on Zoom during the Pandemic. Every Communion Service we hear that Jesus "took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."'
As we approach the end of our Lenten journey, let us each recommit to the ancient covenant. Let it be written on our hearts, and therefore witnessed in our lives and our faith, that God is our God, and we are God's People!
Written on their Hearts
This writing on the heart
This cleansing of the heart
Is no sweet lyric
No gentle message
Rather with loud cries and tears
It is heart surgery
Oblation rendered as ablation
A massive shock to the heart
Unsettling the patterns of sin
Resetting the rhythms of creation
To die to sin
To restore the heart’s joy
Yours in Christ,