As we plunge into Lent, settling into patterns of prayer and fasting and giving to others, the lectionary points us to the reason for it all.
Each week until Easter, I’ll be musing on the Sunday readings: specifically, through the lens of the first (Old Testament) readings. Read in turn, these take us on a journey through God’s plan to save us, from its beginnings in Genesis to the coming of Jesus. They focus on our covenant relationship with God: how it began, how it progressed, and how it led to our New Covenant in Christ.
A covenant is a type of agreement. It is a binding promise that unites people or peoples together. Covenants have been made between kings and nations, cementing them as allies. A marriage is a covenant that makes two people one and provides the basis for family. In the context of God’s relationship with his people, he used covenants to restore and build his human family. He used covenants to swear his fidelity and bind us to him in loving obedience.
The “Old Covenant,” established in the Old Testament (which means “old covenant”), is a series of binding promises by which God declared his intention to bless Israel and bless the world through her; to be her God and she his precious people. For her part, she would follow him and show the world a new way of life. She would be set apart as a light in the darkness, illuminating the way back to the Father. The “New Covenant” is that for which the Old prepared: something that promises and achieves for us an eternal relationship of love and blessing within the family of God as his adopted children and the Bride of his only Son.
Here’s an outline of the stops we will make on this Lenten journey:
1st Sunday of Lent – Covenant with Noah
God establishes a covenant with Noah, with a sign “for all ages to come” (Gen 9:8-15). The psalm reminds us that God’s ways “are love and truth to those who keep [his] covenant” (see Ps 25:10).
2nd Sunday of Lent – Covenant with Abraham
Abraham offers his son Isaac to God, willing to sacrifice his only son. Because he obeys God’s command, he receives his son and confirmation of an amazing blessing that extends to all the nations of the earth (Gen 22). “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living,” reads the Psalm Response. Obedience leads to life, not death.
3rd Sunday of Lent – Covenant with Moses
God brings his children out of slavery in Egypt and gives them the Ten Commandments: laws to help them live as His children (Exodus 20). Then Psalm 19: the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing, and trustworthy! – the Ten Commandments are, in fact, “the words of everlasting life.”
4th Sunday of Lent – Called back to Covenant
God sends prophets “early and often” to call his people back to his covenant love. They refuse and are sent in exile, then the Lord draws them out to return and rebuild (2 Chr 36). “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!” we respond with Psalm 137, along with the exiles in Babylon.
5th Sunday of Lent – Announcing the New Covenant
As the people head into exile, Jeremiah announces a day when God will make a new covenant within them and write it on their hearts! (Jer 31:33-34). “Create in me a clean heart,” we reply with Psalm 51.
Palm Sunday – Entering the New Covenant
Old and New are drawn together in the words of Isaiah, who says “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard…” (Isa 50:6). Then “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – Jesus himself takes up the refrain from Psalm 22. Everything in the Old finds its fulfillment in the New, and we enter Passion Week reliving our baptism into his death and awaiting the glorious resurrection.
© 2015, 2021 Sarah Christmyer
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This post was previously published February 18, 2015, on this site as the first in a series called “Lent, Year B: A Journey to Covenant.”
Take Scripture into your week during Lent with this free Monday-Friday reading plan for Year B (2015, 2018, 2021…): Download 40 Days in the Bible-Yr B.