February 25, 2024

The Price of the New Covenant

The Price of the New Covenant

Sermon 2nd Lent 25 February
Readings: Gen. 17. 1-7, 15-16; Rom. 4. 13-25; Mk. 8. 31-38
Theme: The Price of the New Covenant

The idea of the “covenant” is central to the theology of the Old Testament. There is not one single account of the covenant but several, and this has led to a variety of understandings of what it actually is. In Genesis 9, that we discussed last week, God makes a covenant with Noah, following the disaster of the flood which had devastated the world. The flood occurs because of the wickedness of humanity, in its violence and immorality, and so as a punishment God decides to “rid the surface of the earth of the human beings whom I created–human and animal, the creeping things and the birds of heaven–for I regret having made them” (Gen 6: 7-8). However, following the flood, God decides to create a ‘new world order’ in which Noah and his sons would multiply and fill the earth. Moreover, this covenant will be one with the whole of creation because God says, “I am now establishing my covenant with you and with your descendants to come, and with every living creature that was with you: birds, cattle and every wild animal with you; everything that came out of the ark, every living thing on earth. And I shall maintain my covenant with you: never again shall all living things be destroyed by the waters of a flood, nor shall there ever again be a flood to devastate the earth” (Gen 9: 9-11).

In other words, this first covenant with Noah ensures a guarantee of the existence of the earth and all its creatures. This was the first reading last week and it introduced us to the theme of baptism and the covenantal agreement between God and Noah that has forged our understanding of this sacrament in the life of the church. The beautiful symbol of the rainbow becomes the sign of this covenant made between God and the earth (Gen. 9. 12-17).

However, today, we are presented with another version of the covenant and this time it is made between God and Abraham. Here the covenant is not oriented towards the whole of the creation, but specifically to guarantee Israel’s proximity to God through the nations which will follow Abraham. Now the descendants of Abraham will be as numerous as the stars of heaven and nations and kings will descend from him. In other words, this covenant is a sign that God will care for God’s people without conditions. It will be an understanding of the covenant which will be freely given.

When we come to our new testament understanding of the covenant there is a key difference. This new covenant will be inaugurated through the blood of the Son of God. The price of this new covenant will be the cross. The flood seems to have returned, but this time, it will engulf God’s own Son. Rather than sit at a distance from the world, the God of this new covenant will himself pay the price for its establishment. This price will be his own death. It is as if the worm at the heart of the creation, namely, death and decay, can only be pulled out through God himself entering into it and allowing it to consume him.

It is these waters of baptism which we considered last week in our reflection on the readings, and in this week’s readings they resurface in a slightly different form. Once we have received the waters of baptism, the apostolic journey of following Jesus through his ministry is the next stage in this entering into the new covenant. It will be a new covenant that will proclaim the covenant between God and his people as one of salvation. The way that God will now save the chosen people from the flood of death and decay, will be through following Christ in his ministry of preaching the Gospel. This leads to entering with Christ into his death, so that we too may share in his resurrection; in his new life. This is the only way which leads to salvation and it is a consequence of sharing with the Jews in being the elected people of God.

So, a challenging message from today’s readings is that we should not presume that all will be saved. Salvation is for the elect, those chosen by God and now in the new covenant those who have entered into the death of Christ. The door of this way of salvation is narrow. It requires a high cost for someone to enter through it. But the cost is payed for us by Christ whose death on the cross has opened the way for us to pass through this door to eternal life. However, to share in this, we are required to play our part through losing our own lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. As St Mark tells us, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”

The covenants made with Noah and with Abraham are now unveiled to the followers of Jesus as the new “Noah’s Ark” who carries its passengers through the flood waters of death. It is this new covenant between God and God’s people that has been made in Jesus. Our responsibility in being elected to share in this covenant is that we should enable those to whom we come in contact with to learn of this Jesus and his saving message. The price of this new covenant will be that this will require a sacrifice of our lives for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel. This is the message of our readings on this second Sunday of Lent and it is good for us to realize the true price of being welcomed into the new covenant.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.