Thursday, March 20, 2008

covenanting.

Psalm 116:7 | Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
Today is Maundy Thursday—and my first post on this blog this month, though I've done a few things on "this far by faith" and posted some recent design on "sun country living."

These days the church generally schedules the rite of confirmation, affirmation of baptism for a majorly resplendent festival day like Pentecost, Reformation or Easter; we also welcome kids to Holy Communion way younger than in days of yore, when youth were not routinely admitted to the Lord's Supper until around 13 (bat/bar mitzvah age) or older. Post-the ordinance of confirmation they were ready to take their place as adults within the community of worship, witness and service, in some cases even serving on council, vestry or session and on committees other than youth. This week in his pastoral letter, United Church of Christ President and General Minister John Thomas told about his own confirmation on a Maundy Thursday in New England, where "owning the covenant" was a long-standing practice.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 | The days are surely 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 Jeremiah 31:31I 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 shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall 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.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
The idea of living in covenant partnership with the Servant God of Israel is at least overwhelming, but as I reminded one of the classes I facilitated during Advent "This is not a covenant between equals!" Remember the classic Lent 1 pericope..."turn stones into bread?" But Jesus himself is bread, not the ordinary kind but the bread of life that never rots, molds or decays. And by the way, Jesus is the stony, solid rock of redemption.

"Here we will take the wine and the water, here we will take the bread of new birth, here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt for the earth. Give us to drink the wine of compassion, give us to eat the bread that is you; nourish us well, and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true. Marty Haugen, Here in This Place, © 1982 GIA Publications.

I love the idea of receiving the sacrament for the first time on Maundy Thursday, but since that can't happen for most of us, we can take the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation again as if for the very first time each Holy Thursday and at every other opportunity. Somewhere I read, "Without Thursday, Jesus' disciples wouldn't have understood Friday; without Friday, they wouldn't have believed Thursday." Exactly. At your right and at your left? ..."You do not know what you are asking." Yes, we know the rest of the story, but do we dare trust God enough to live the whole story? During the Lenten DVD series, Left Right in the City's Senior Pastor told me the guy who was pianist for the morning series privately suggested to SP maybe in the Reformation tradition we emphasize God's gracfe and mercy too much, possibly to the near-exclusion of human agency and responsibility. Do we dare trust the Spirit of Life enough to do whatever we can to uphold our side of the covenant? In his famous explanation of the 3rd article of the creed in his Small Catechism, Martin Luther reminds us,

"...the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ..."

Psalm 22:2-3 | O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

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