The New Covenant in Christ
April 27, 2003
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 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 will be my people. No longer will they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they will 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. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve. . . . As they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:17, 22-26)
Reading from Swedenborg
A covenant is the Lord's presence in love and kindness. This is clear from the very nature of a covenant. The purpose of any covenant is union. In other words, its purpose is that people may live together in friendship and love. This is why marriage is called a covenant. The Lord's union with human beings does not exist except in love and kindness, for the Lord is love and mercy itself. (Arcana Coelestia #1038)
This morning I would like to focus on an immensely comforting spiritual subject in these times of uncertainty and war: the new covenant that the Lord our God made with us while Incarnate as the Christ, when he walked and talked, ate, sang, and prayed with our Middle Eastern ancestors.
In its basic form, a covenant is a deep spiritual agreement made between two parties. God's covenant with us is certainly eternal, and more powerful than any problem or any force we humans may muster. Bombs and strife and confusion may have their temporary reign at times on earth, but the Lord's covenant of love will remain forever. It is one, as Jeremiah was told, that is designed to be written on our very hearts. And it is as sure and down to earth as Jesus Christ himself was when he walked among us two thousand years ago.
God cares very deeply about having solid, sure covenants with each and every one of us. In part this is so that we may start each day feeling at peace that the Lord has an eternal and true arrangement with us. Also, it is so we understand that a covenant means that we have a vital and important part in our relationships with God. It matters greatly to the Lord that we each understand very deeply how passionately he cares for us. And it matters to the Lord that we have an eternal spiritual contract with him, based in the divine human love that God brought to earth (into the earthly levels of our minds) by means of his Incarnation.
For those of you here today who are parents, I would imagine that you might have a special appreciation for this issue of how vitally important it is to the Lord that we, his children, know full well how truly loved we are.
One day a couple of years ago, a female friend of mine and I were having a discussion about love. This brought us to the subject of what it felt like for her as a mother to love her son. It struck me when she said that before her son was born, she really thought she understood what love was about. She now realized she was only partially "in the know" about love. After becoming a mommy, she discovered that her heart now cared for her child so much that it almost frightened her. She knew without a doubt that she would do everything possible to ensure that he was fed, kept warm and safe, and most of all that he knew and felt deeply that he was loved. Later she learned that she still had the ability to discipline him when needed, and make use of her discernment powers in mothering him wisely. But she knew in the core of her being that her spiritual instincts were inwardly driving her to love her son, and to make certain that he knew and felt that love.
God, our divine Father, also wants us to know without any doubt that we are loved and cherished--which is half of his covenant with us. Think about it, if you will: what are all the many and various things we experience in life that inform us how powerfully loved we are, and how much the Lord cares for us?
I think about this beautiful planet we have been given, and its awesome ability to grow and produce so much food; about the blessing of music; the sun rising in the east; the warmth and peace God gives me when I take the time to pray; the feeling of being hugged by someone I care for, and who cares about me; about our pets and how they love us. Also, I think about how God provided us with his Word. I think about the story of his making that first covenant with Abraham, and then never, ever breaking his covenant with us humans--which finally brought him here into the world as the Christ, our Savior.
It is so moving to me that the almighty and infinite Creator took on our humanness and walked among us; that he blessed people, and gave us great hope and a whole new experience of how personally we are loved. And I think most of all about the story of Jesus breaking bread and consecrating his new covenant with us, based in his saving love for us. Jesus knew how simple yet powerful it would be to institute his new covenant in the context of a meal. He transformed the old covenant that he had made with the Israelites in the Passover, which commemorated their release from bondage in Egypt, and centered this new covenant in a beautifully intimate, face-to-face connection with him.
The Lord's new covenant was one centered in the love that he brought to human beings by means of the glorified humanity, which Jesus was transforming before their very eyes. Christ's new covenant was being based within his divine humanity, and it was one we could grasp in such powerful yet simple things as bread and wine. Doesn't it speak something so beautiful to your soul that God Incarnate broke bread before us and handed it to all around him saying, "Take, eat! This is my body"? God's covenant with us requires that we take his love simply, that we eat it as the spiritual food that will give us life, and swallow it that it might actually become a part of us.
The Lord's covenant was also based on the cup of wine, which he blessed, and which corresponds to his divine truth. As Jesus transformed this ancient Hebrew sacrament, he taught that his cup was the "new covenant in his blood." This is such an immensely important symbol for us to understand! God's divine truth, which came through Jesus Christ (God visible from the invisible), moves through his divine Being like blood through our bodies. The Lord's truth is that vital: it is part of his essential life.
And God's agreement with us is that he will always make it readily and abundantly available to us, by means of his divine Word. Furthermore, God is revealing how life-giving and life-saving his truth is for us too, and how it may be brought into our internal thinking and way of seeing life, so as to be written on our hearts and flow into our spiritual blood also.
The Lord uses the divine truth in his Word to emphasize the intimacy of his new covenant by recording in the book of Revelation, "I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (Revelation 3:20). Swedenborg wrote in commentary on this passage, "A covenant symbolizes union with the Lord through receiving divine truth by the understanding and will, and by the heart and soul--that is, by love and faith--and this union takes place mutually" (Apocalypse Explained #701b.4).
Thus, to be in a covenantal relationship with God means that the covenant is made alive through love with him and for him. It is made alive through being deeply open to God's love for each one of us as individuals, and for humanity as a whole. And it is made alive by having our hearts open toward the Lord as children have their hearts open to their parents when they are young, vulnerable, open, free, and passionate about it!
The Last Supper was a way in which we can remember the Lord and his saving love for us. Eating his love, digesting it into our lives with one another every day by means of the truth God provides, is the only power that can save us from the selfishness we inherit from our ancestors. This is an enormously important part of God's new covenant with us. Our love for and faith in him makes up our mutuality in this "agreement." And the Lord's love flowing into us, which we are then called to channel through ourselves to others, is what saves us.
We truly live and become alive as never before by bringing our will, understanding, and faith into an open and receptive relationship with the power of Jesus Christ, which is his love. When the Lord's work was accomplished on earth, he made his finite humanity into divine, unselfish love. And now all of humankind is to feed on his divine love instead of on our selfishness.
Such love has its own inherent wisdom flowing through it and from it, which our teachings remind us is so much more than mere knowledge, or even than great intelligence. Spiritual wisdom is essentially having the will and knowing how to bring God's love and truth into every facet of our lives. That is why it takes a lifetime to be saved, and to grow fully into Jesus' love.
The Lord's new covenant with us, therefore, is based on a mutually intimate relationship, a sacred agreement between us and our God. Our simple yet powerful remembrance of it is given in the Holy Supper. If this is observed ritualistically only, it will not save us at all. Jesus instituted it as a reminder of how fully we must bring our whole heart, will, and mind to this covenant, recognizing where all love and truth come from.
The Lord's wisdom in this sacred reminder is marvelously direct. His love and truth were woven into every facet of his own earthly life and the choices he made. God brought his love and truth into life's messiest and hardest circumstances, as seen in the life of Jesus. Far from a "pie in the sky" kind of calling, the Lord requires that we also let his love and wisdom flow into the trenches of everyday living, everyday struggling, and everyday hurting.
Now we know, because of the life of Jesus Christ, how intimately and abundantly God's love and truth can be woven into a life that is easy, fun, and joyous--like wedding in Cana that the Lord attended. And we know how pragmatically yet mystically God's love and truth must be sewn into our depths of agony and pain, as when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane "and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44). I am reminded of his pivotal moment when he prayed, "Father, let your will be done, not mine" (Luke 22:42).
By coming deeply and ardently to the new covenant Christ offers, having the will to walk forward, ever forward, every day, we are assured--so solidly assured--that God will always be true to his side of the bargain. As Paul wrote so passionately in Romans 8:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28, 35, 37-39)
Now, you see, it is up to you and me to make certain that we make the Lord's divine love the central feature and purpose of life. This covenant is given in the Lord's divine blood, which we know is his truth. No wonder we are taught to read and meditate on God's Word every day.
God bless you in keeping your covenant strong and faithful in these trying times on earth. Amen.
Wonderful Lord, Divine Savior, it is such a privilege that we can come to you in prayer, in communion, in worship, and share together in the beautiful covenant that you have made with us. It is so miraculous that you have given your own body and blood, your own substance, to sustain us spiritually, to nourish our souls, to feed our minds and hearts. What a blessing that you share yourself with us, and that you have created us so that we can share ourselves with one another! Though we may come from trouble and conflict, from war and strife, from sorrow and pain, we come to you knowing that your covenant stands eternal in the heavens, and that we can relax, lay down our burdens, and know that you will carry them for us. Thank you so much, Lord Jesus, for being our divine human Savior. Thank you so much for being our deep, eternal Friend. Amen.
Rev. Kit Billings