Covenant as the Practice of Presence
In the primeval story of the Israelites (found in Genesis 1-11), Noah has taken the animals and his family into the ark to avoid the massive flood that was overtaking a world of evil. As they finally found land, we then hear the story of God establishing a covenant never to destroy the earth with such a devastating flood and marked that covenant with a bow in the clouds … the symbol of our rainbow.
While we get caught up in the debate of how different this image of a judgmental God is from a God of grace, I want to look at the image of covenant as expressed here. This is God who rides out the storm with those who suffer. As we have experienced these winter storms during the middle of a pandemic, there is much scientific evidence to suggest that this is the judgment on humanity for the ways we have abused our planet and created the perfect storm for both global warming and the easy spread of viruses between species as we have continually taken over natural habitats for our non-human cohabitants of planet Earth.
This has felt like judgment, yet it is also that space where I encounter the covenant with God. It is a reminder that God will be with us no matter what we face, and it comes with a reminder of our responsibility in this covenant, as well.
This covenant God is the one who meets the Israelites at the mountain where the law is given. This covenant God is whom we meet in the person of Jesus, who reminds us of this new covenant (as we say in our communion liturgy) given to us in the very blood of Jesus. It is a promise of presence even as we stand in the place of death.
As we think about our brokenness in Lent, I am reminded of two key points here:
First, we have a God who loves us enough to be with us whether we suffer unforeseen natural disasters or the consequences of human sin. This is the God whom we have proclaimed during our Christmas celebrations as “Emmanuel” … God who is with us.
Second (and just as important), Lent is a season of repentance where we reflect on our side of the covenant relationship. For Israel, the covenant that comes in the law is that God will be our God and we will be the people of God. For the followers of The Way (the earliest Christians), the covenant comes with a reminder that Jesus calls us to repent … to turn towards God … to use this time to refocus our hearts.
As we experience the brokenness and hardships of unrelenting winter storms in the midst of a pandemic, we are invited to use this as a time of reflection. What is it that the brokenness reveals about us? How do we experience God’s presence? How are we then called to repent? How are we called to practice presence with one another?
God comes as a covenant God who will not leave us alone, no matter what we face. This is now our opportunity to turn our hearts toward God.
Lord, whose presence is made known through your covenant love: May we sense your abiding presence. May we hear you calling us into a deeper covenant relationship that comes from repentance and an ever-turning of our hearts to your purpose. May we hear you calling to practice a new presence … a solidarity … with everyone and everything in your creation. Amen.