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Rector's Reflection: Living Into The Covenant, February 24, 2024


In the second Sunday in Lent, we again have our first reading from the Book of Genesis from the Torah, and we again are led to consider the importance of covenants. Just like the text we saw last week, this text it comes from the Priestly writers of the Hebrew scriptures, who edited the sacred oral stories passed down for millennia and shaped them through the trauma of the Babylonian exile.

 

One of the main features of the Priestly viewpoint is the idea of the importance of covenant. At its most basic level, the Priestly view of the history of Israel up to the point in which they live in the 6 century BCE is that it is divided into three great eras after the flood, and each era is inaugurated by a covenant. Last week we saw the post-flood covenant between Noah and his sons and all the earth on the one hand, and God on the other.  This week we see the second great covenant in Israel’s post-diluvian history: the one between Abraham and his descendants, and God. You’ll notice some of the same language, like “everlasting covenant,” being used that we saw last week, and many of those same words were also used in the creation story in Genesis that the priestly writers composed—the one that makes up all of chapter 1 enter first the creation being made out of nothing.

 

Now that we have seen two of the covenants, we notice some common features as well as words: the covenant is initiated by God, since God is the most powerful party; it is a blessing; and it contains commandments (last week it was “be fruitful and cover the Earth; this week it’s “you will be fruitful,--and you will get circumcised;” that important bit is in the omitted verses. Last week’s seems less painful).

 

As a sign of the new covenant, three names are introduced for the first time in this reading: Abram becomes Abraham; God becomes El-Shaddai in the original Hebrew text; and Sarai becomes Sarah. All of these names have meanings:

Abram: “Father is Exalted”

Abraham: “Father of a Multitude”

El-Shaddai: “God Almighty” or “God of the Mountain”

Sarai: “Princess”

Sarah: “Mother of Nations”

 

Name changes in scripture indicate a new relationship or status, and we always need to attend to their meanings. J K Rowling used names as hints about characters all through her Harry Potter series—for instance, Professor Lupin’s last name means “from the wolf” and he is a werewolf; Harry’s nemesis Malfoy’s last name is French for “bad faith.”

 

What applications can we take from this for our own situation? First of all, in Lent, our readings throughout urge us to remember ( and re-member) the sweep of God’s salvation history with the whole Earth. This is why the Easter Vigil can include as many as nine readings recounting exactly that on the eve of the Resurrection- see pp. 285-294 in the Book of Common Prayer. The readings we encounter in Lent call us to examine how much our lives align with the values of our own Baptismal Covenant (see pp. 292-294 of that same Easter Vigil Liturgy). We are also forcefully reminded in this reading that our names have meaning. In particular, choosing to identify yourself by the name of Christ as a Christian is not just a claim of belonging, it is a commitment and covenant with God to live, think, and act as true disciples, committed to the Way of Jesus in all aspects of our lives.

 

Especially in this Lenten season, how can each of us recommit to living up to the Christian name we claim? How can we recommit to living and walking in the compassionate, healing Way of Jesus especially in this time of division, self-righteousness, and strife? Think of what a powerful witness to the power of Jesus in the world right now that would be!

 

In Christ,

Mother Leslie+

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