A colleague pointed out to me that in this cycle for Lent the Hebrew Scripture reminds us of covenant. The first Sunday of Lent was God’s covenant with Noah following the flood, this week it will be the story of Abram and Sarai, then comes the lifting up of the bronze serpent as a sign of healing and finally Jeremiah’s New Covenant on the 5th Sunday. All of these covenants have something in common: they have to do with a promise that God makes to humanity. All of them have to do with God honoring humanity providing a promise that begins in the particular with Noah and moves to all creation.
I wonder then if that isn’t a normal progression of the way that God often deals with us. We begin with that personal and yet global experience of God. God makes negative promise: ‘I will not destroy you, yours or the world in this way again.’ You personally can trust God not to destroy you or yours. You do not have to fear the world. Then he promises to be Abram and Sarai’s God. There is a fidelity covenanted. Then the lifting up of the serpent (often thought to be the caduses but it isn’t) which reminds us of the healing power of God: the promise of spiritual health and a new covenant that God will make with all people: a covenant that says I will be the God of the entire universe and I will love you.
This covenantal progression is often how we develop as faithful people when we realize that the Holy is an entity beyond us, when we can look away from ourselves and see God moving in the people and the world about us. I was reminded by another colleague that the rainbow in the sky is ‘broken light’—it is bent through a prism to create the spectrum of light that spreads across the sky. It is often in our brokenness that we first find the Holy One and then we enter into a relationship with God and claim God as OUR God. Then we find God in the healing of our brokenness and we then welcome a new promise of God’s deepening friendship that we can live with, tolerate even love those who are different from us because they too have been freely loved by God. God is constantly opening our vision of what is God’s definition of what is loveable, and lovely in our lives.
I readily admit I am not conversant with the theologies of other faiths. I do not know how Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Jainists reference their faith. I just know that I know that connection with all that is both beyond me and within me that connects with all goodness is Divine. And I can talk about it through the vocabulary and constructs of Christianity. I know God’s love for me through the person of Jesus and through the prophets and the laws of Hebrew Scripture. But I also know the Holy One through the personal experience in prayer, sacraments and liturgy.
Covenants are about God’s care for me. They call me to a faith that demands trust in the Holy. They remind me of the goodness in creation and the goodness within me that connects with through covenant with the goodness in others. They remind me that not only do I not have to fear the awesomeness of God, but that I do not need to fear myself or others as I live my life in faith. Covenanted love, whether between humanity and the Holy, or between humans cannot be based on fear or punitive methods. Neither can covenants be quid pro quo nor can they be one-sided. Covenanted love calls from us a willing to be partners in the true sense of the word.
However, most Christians do not believe that they are partners with God. Years ago, Transactional Analysis took the world by storm. I began to apply it to my prayer life. If I wanted to have a healthy relationship with God, I need to step into and Adult-to-Adult relationship with God. It was the only way that I was going to step beyond God as Holy Parent and into a greater relationship. This in no way means that I think I am on a par with God. But it does say that I needed to take responsibility for my relationship with God rather than repeat childhood transactions with God as an adult. Covenanted love is an Adult-to-Adult transaction. Yes, I can and do resort to ‘hiding beneath the shadow of God’s wings’ at times in my prayer and return like the prodigal child or even pout like the older sibling. But that does not take away from the covenanted love that I know with God. It is a mature faith that does not allow me to exclude others so that I can feel safe, or demand of others adherence to codes that I find difficult to follow.
God calls us into covenants when God is calling us to newness very much like God calls us to discipline during Lent.