Covenants order our lives, our faith communities, and, in the best of times, our nations. The promises and agreements God makes to us, and that we make to one another, are sometimes made binding by oaths or rituals. Sometimes God simply sends someone down from the mountain with a covenant fully formed and sealed.
The covenants of marriage, baptism, ordination, and church membership echo the great historic covenants, such as God’s agreement with Noah after the flood and Moses’ receiving of the Ten Commandments. The biblical covenants are relevant to our lives today because their wisdom—and power to order societies—has much to teach us about a covenantal way of relating to God, to others, and to the created order.
The divine-human covenants highlighted in this month’s readings offer a “two-way street” of rights, responsibilities, and relationships. Indeed, watch Jesus turn the tables when they are violated! God’s promises and future-oriented commitments surprise us. In Genesis 9, God says creation will never again be destroyed by God’s action. In Genesis 17, God pledges an everlasting involvement with, and blessing of, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants.
Over time, biblical covenants were replaced by the laws of feudal societies, kingdoms, and nation-states. Nonetheless, our fragmented, anxious times cry out for the justice, security, and compassion of covenantal living. From secular international treaties to church polity, we see the desire of peoples to have what a community bound by covenant provides.
Robert Roth is a writer and social activist in East Lansing, Michigan.
Sealed with Rainbows
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Consider the magnitude of the announcement God makes to Noah: “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants....[N]ever again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:9-11).