During Lent we should review our covenant relationship with Christ

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

Lent is a suitable time for us to reflect on our covenant relationship with God. Covenant is a key concept in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God makes several covenants with the people promising them, “I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Jeremiah 7:23). While God is always faithful to His covenants, the people repeatedly break their side of the bargain.

The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a covenant as a “solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees.” A covenant is different from a contract in that it is anticipated that a contract may be broken and so may provide for stipulated damages in the event that one side or the other does not meet their obligations. A covenant, on the other hand, is intended to be permanent. For example, the sacrament of matrimony is considered to be a covenant since it is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman as husband and wife. That is what Jesus intended and why the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce. Secular culture, in contrast, often treats marriage as a breakable contract even if the vows say, “until death do us part.” When a couple divorces, they typically reach an agreement on payment of alimony and child support and the division of assets. Some couples even enter pre-nuptial agreements to stipulate the financial arrangements in case of divorce.

While a covenant is intended to be permanent, there may be conditions that will take place in the event of some foreseen event. Thus, in the Old Testament, we see some of God’s covenants are conditional and some are unconditional. 

The first covenants we see in the Bible are in the very first book, in the Book of Genesis. While the biblical account of Adam and Eve does not use the word “covenant,” it is implicit when God tells Adam, “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17). This was a conditional covenant, since there would be dire consequences if they disobeyed. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He banished them from the Garden of Eden. But God did not stop loving His people and would seek to make new covenants with them.

Later in the Book of Genesis, when God saw how corrupt the earth had become, God told Noah that he was going to destroy everyone except Noah and his household, for they alone were found to be righteous. Then God instructs Noah to build a boat, called an ark, and tells Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you. You shall go into the ark, you and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives with you. Of all living creatures you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, one male and one female, to keep them alive along with you” (Gen. 6:18-19). After the flood destroys all living creatures outside the ark, he tells Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth. This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11-13). 

Unfortunately, in our culture today, most people would not identify a rainbow as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah, but as the logo of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer movement, referred to as LGBTQ for short. While it is sad that this biblical symbol has been co-opted by a movement that promotes sinful behaviors contrary to the Bible, perhaps in a sense it is fitting that the rainbow is now a badge of human sinfulness breaking the covenant with God.

Also in the Book of Genesis, God makes a covenant with Abraham, telling him of the Promised Land, saying, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:1-2). The sign of this covenant is the circumcision of the males (Gen. 17:10-11).

After the Israelites are freed from slavery in Egypt, God makes a conditional covenant with them through Moses, saying, “Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). The sign of the covenant with Moses are the two stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments.

In the New Testament, Christ established a new and eternal covenant through his own sacrificial death and Resurrection. This new and definitive covenant will never pass away, and no new public revelation or covenant is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sign of this covenant is baptism. The new covenant of Christ is both conditional and unconditional. It is unconditional in the sense that God’s sending of His Son Jesus to save us is unconditional on His part. It is conditional in the sense that being baptized does not guarantee that a person is eternally saved. Jesus makes clear that we will be judged by how we live, saying that those who live contrary to His teachings “will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). That is why this time of Lent is so important for us to review our covenant relationship with Christ, so that we may be counted among those who share in the eternal glory of His kingdom.

May God give us this grace. Amen.