Today, I want to talk about covenant. I have been exploring the depths of this word for the last fifteen years. I have tried many tangible ways to express this complex idea. One of the most prominent covenants in my everyday life is the communion table. For me, this is a weekly sacrament that reveals in a hands-on way the covenant that God shared with us in God’s son, Jesus. It’s bigger than a promise. It’s more than a ritual. A covenant is a mutual expression of trust and commitment from one party to another.
In scripture, this takes place in the wilderness, in the flood, in the garden. These covenants are between God and Creation. There are also covenants between humans. Most notably, covenants are cut in marriage ceremonies. I say cut, because Old Testament teachings showed that sacrifice was paramount in covenant. Traditionally, an animal was cut in half and those entering into a covenant would pass between the two animal halves, as a way to ratify the covenant.
Be it between spouses, or parents and children, we see covenant relationships all around us. When one person reaches out in sacrificial ways and offers their life (or trust, wellbeing or protection) for the good of another, perhaps you are witnessing a covenant. The key defining piece of this equation is the third-party. Is the Divine invited into the relationship? That’s what we must establish when we enter into a covenant.
I have been to countless weddings. I have even officiated ceremonies. Recently, I have pondered my role as an onlooker. From the audience, I can enjoy the day of celebration. From the other side of the couple, I have a unique place. Over the last few years, my desire to officiate weddings is all but lost. I don’t want to be part of rubber stamping legal unions – any judge or internet ordained frat brother can do that. I am, however, thrilled to help turn the legal marriage, the contact, into a covenant. That part gets me excited. Everything changes when marriage moves from a tax benefit or legal act to a covenantal expression of two people choosing to walk hand in hand as they serve and bless the world. When a couple chooses to break themselves open and pour themselves out for each other and for the good of Christ’s kingdom, we have something BIG to celebrate.
There is also a sacred covenant that you may have participated in and forget to regularly celebrate. It happened the day that your child was placed in your arms. In that instant, be it by a judge or a nurse or by marriage, you said ‘yes’ to one of the most precious covenants. It has probably changed as the years have passed, but it is still a covenant. On that day, you gave your heart and life to another human. One who would need you, even when they did not want you. As a parent, offering your life to the Creator as a shepherd and guide is one of life’s greatest callings. It does not matter if you child is 4 or 54, your words and guidance and cheerleading and most of all love will cast a shadow on their ability to enter into their own covenants. May we honor that calling.
Whatever the relationship you are navigating in love today, may you know that God’s desire is to move us from extravagant gifts and roses, past report card signing and feeding, to the very real and holy invitation to sacred covenant. May we take seriously the relationships we are called to honor as we commit ourselves to an ever-deepening desire to explore sacrificial, covenantal love.