You may notice that each week that I offer the Words of Institution at the table, I use a little different language than Rev. Michael. I often use similar language when offering the Words over the bread, but when offering the Words over the cup, I often say something along these lines: “This cup is a symbol of the new covenant that God is establishing with you.”
I do this because of a lecture from I remember from seminary that has stuck with me ever since. A covenant has to have three things in order to be a “covenant.” It must have, 1) two parties, 2) a set of promises, and 3) a sign (that is, some sign so that you know you are party to the covenant). It is because of this understanding that I prefer those words of institution which include “sign” or “symbol.” It is not the actual cup that is the covenant, it is not the blood that was shed that is the actual covenant. The covenant that God made with all of humanity through Jesus Christ is represented in Christ’s life given for us, and in the cup we share each week. We lift up the cup and partake of the bread each week to remind ourselves that we are part of this covenant, that we are participants in the promises in Jesus Christ. We also do this during worship, in order to honor God, to affirm our commitment to those promises; to the promises that were made to us, and the promises we have made with God.
Our worship on October 18 was full of promises and covenants. We each made covenants with the church, by pledging our time, our energy, our silver and gold, by pledging ourselves to the church. We together made a covenant with God when we consecrated these gifts, pledging to continually set aside a part of our lives, our time, our silver and gold, our energy for God’s purposes and use. We made a covenant with one another that we will maintain these pledges for the good of the church, for if one of us does not uphold our pledge, then our church as a whole suffers. And we made a covenant together, as I was affirmed as your associate minister. We participated in this covenant together, that I will not only minister TO you, but also WITH you here at First Christian Church.
Now we’ve covered the first and the third portions of a “covenant,” both the parties and the symbols or signs of a covenant. But what about the promises made?
You may have heard the saying, “Promises were made to be broken,” but we often hear this saying without understanding where it came from. This saying has made it into our modern vernacular because of a tale from the well-known author, Aesop, from one of Aesop’s fables. The tale of “The Nurse and the Wolf,” goes like this,
“Be quiet now,” said an old Nurse to a child sitting on her lap. “If you make that noise again I will throw you to the Wolf.”
Now it chanced that a Wolf was passing close under the window as this was said. So he crouched down by the side of the house and waited. “I am in good luck today,” thought he. “It is sure to cry soon, and a dantier morsel I haven’t had for many a long day.” So he waited, and he waited, and he waited, till at last the child began to cry, and the Wolf came forward before the window, and looked up to the Nurse, wagging his tail. But all the Nurse did was to shut down the window and call for help, and the dogs of the house came rushing out. “Ah,” said the Wolf as he galloped away, “Enemies promises were made to be broken.”
Promises held in covenant were NOT made to be broken. Lucky for us, we do not ONLY learn about promises from Aesop’s fables. The promises we learn from and follow, are those made by God. God promises to forgive sins, to bless us, to be with us always, to give us meaningful work to do in God’s kingdom and much more. The only thing we need to do to receive these promises are to believe in them.
As we lift up and celebrate the many promises made at worship on October 18, let us model and follow the example of the promise we have received in Jesus Christ. We shall believe in these promises, receive these promises, and live into these promises with one another.
In Hope… Laura