Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
People of the Covenant
by Father Jan Larson
(From the June 9, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
The great Easter feast begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. During that liturgy, as during every celebration of the Eucharist in every place, we hear Jesus announce that he is giving us his “blood of the new and everlasting covenant.” Thus he uses an ancient biblical theme, that of covenant, to convey to his disciples the significance of his death and resurrection. A covenant is not a contract, for it goes deeper than that. A contract is executed by two parties depending on certain conditions being fulfilled. A covenant goes further, establishing a deep relationship between the parties, a relationship grounded in mutual love and respect. In a real sense, people of a covenant “become family.”
God had entered into a covenant with the People of Israel, and its terms were clear and exciting: “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” Israel was routinely unfaithful to the covenant, yet it was the covenant that led the people through the 40 years of desert wandering and various experiences of exile. At the Last Supper Jesus reveals that now there will be a final and definitive covenant, one that can never be broken. It cannot be broken because Jesus is our representative in entering into this new covenant, and Jesus – “in whom we live and move and have our being” – will always be faithful to this covenant, signed and sealed in his blood, in his very life. The initiation of people into the Church and into the life of Christ at Easter, and our own baptism and confirmation, remind us that we, too, are a covenanted people.
The covenant is not only a life-giving gift, but it is also a command. It does not come without responsibilities. For people of the covenant a question constantly arises: “What does it mean to be God’s people?” The Jews struggled with this question, and they concluded, as did Jesus, that covenant means two things: to love God and to love neighbor, and this kind of love cannot happen without conversion. Conversion cannot happen without a constant gospel challenge to the status quo, without confronting the imperfection of each of us and the human institutions on which we depend.
Now with another Lent and Easter season completed, the message is clear. The reign of God is yet incomplete, and the process of its completion cannot proceed unless we are converted, unless we make conversion of life and morals our pattern, unless we are converted again and again. The Easter mystery becomes our hope of success. Without a periodic, even weekly, vision and celebration of the reign or kingdom of God in its fullness to encourage us and challenge us and give us hope, then the process of conversion cannot succeed. Without the paschal mystery of life-through-death, the odds are simply too great. It is within the Church and at the Eucharist that we have the kind of kingdom vision, the kind of affirmation, praise and thanksgiving that free us poor sinners and pull our fragments together.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)