01 July 2007

The New Covenant in Christ's Blood

Today the Western Rite Orthodox churches celebrated the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The following is an excerpt of the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.

Covenants between men are made, broken, fulfilled, revised, renegotiated, and put into effect all the time. Between men, there are millions of covenants. But between God and His creation, between the Lord and mankind, between the Spirit and those who live in the Spirit, there is and has always been only one covenant. It is the Lord’s covenant—the covenant that He established and decreed. And so, unlike our covenants, the Lord’s covenant is based not on negotiated terms but grounded in who the Lord is—in His very self. And since He is certain, immovable and never-ending, the Lord’s covenant is the only certain, immovable and never-ending covenant.

The terms of this true and lasting covenant are as simple as they are straight forward: “I am the Lord your God. … I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” Those terms have never changed. Several times, the covenant was re-extended, re-established, restored, renewed, respoken. But the terms were never re-negotiated or revised. The Lord God has extended the communion He is to us, and has promised to be our God; and He has declared that we are His people.

Each time the one true covenant has been reaffirmed, bloodshed has ratified and sealed the relationship. So when God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham, Abraham and all the males in his household shed their blood by being circumcised. And when the Lord God reaffirmed His covenant with the children of Israel—after He had safely delivered them from Egypt, after His servant Moses at Mount Sinai had read the book of the covenant, and after the children of Israel said, “Everything the Lord has said we will both do and hear”—then Moses took the blood [of young calves] and sprinkled it upon the people, and he said: This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.

And today we have heard once again—as we do at every Mass—that when Our Lord God re-established and renewed His covenant, He determined to seal and ratify it not with the blood shed by men or with the blood of bulls and goats, but with the blood of His only-begotten Son. This blood which Our Lord shed on the cross is the blood of the new covenant. And this Lord’s blood is precious—not only because it is God’s blood, but also because it is the price which renews and confirms and re-extends the Lord’s covenant to all mankind.

This covenant which Our Lord’s precious blood sealed is “the new covenant in His blood.” It is new, not because it abolished, cancelled or nullified the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham and the children of Israel. The covenant—and the terms of the covenant—has remained constant. It is new chiefly because now the covenant is located and grounded not just in the Lord’s Word but also is His blood. Not that this makes the covenant more sure, more firm. For Our Lord does not change; and His Word is as constant as it has ever been.

What has changed, however, is how that covenant is received. Before, the Lord’s covenant rested in the unreliable ears of man. Now the Lord’s covenant rests in the sanctifying streams of divine blood. Before, the Lord’s covenant was ratified by the blood of death-driven flesh. Now it is ratified by the blood which is from Life Himself. Before, the blood which ratified the covenant was sprinkled to purify flesh. Now, the blood which ratifies is able to purge consciences since it is the Blood of Christ bestowed with and through the eternal Spirit.

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