Posts Tagged ‘covenant’

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

The concept of “covenants” has been at the core of both Jewish and Christian faiths from very early on in history. Such covenant are usually seen as agreements between God and the covenanted party. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve which was broken when they ate of the fruit of the tree, and yet there was a promise of God that the serpent would be crushed.

The second covenant was with Noah and its conditions involved blood. God said he would never destroy the world again by flood, and they we’re never to drink the blood of animals or shed human blood. As a sign he sent the rainbow for them to remember the covenant. A third covenant was made with Abram in which God promised land and posterity. The condition of this promise was that they be circumcised – blood again was involved.

Following this was the Mosaic covenant where God promised that the Israelites would be God’s chosen ones with a Promised land as long as they kept God’s laws and the Ten commandments. The sign of this was the passover which again involved blood. The blood of the Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not visit their homes. Afterwards, as we read today, Moses took the blood from the offerings and splashed the altar, and then splashed it on the people as a sign of the blood covenant they had made with God. (Aren’t you glad we only use water in the New Testament! Could be kind of messy otherwise!).

The fifth covenant with the Jews was made with King David who promised David that he would become a Father to the Jewish people, but a father who would use the rod on his children to discipline them if necessary – again, some blood involvement. The last of the Old Testament covenants was made to the prophet Jeremiah when God promises that his Law would not just be on stone but would be written on the hearts of his people, and all who believed in their hearts would become the new chosen.

In the New Testament we see this last covenant fulfilled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. That we have become the new chosen who believe in Jesus and who carry Christ’s law in our hearts. As part of this covenant there is also blood as we see in the Gospel today when Jesus says “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The sign of this covenant is the Eucharist which we celebrate today.

I have chosen to talk about mostly the blood today since this feast day has expanded from being about Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, to include the blood of Christ as well. And blood is not something  most of us like to talk or even think about. It is of course, what gives our body life, and so may freak out when we are bleeding because blood is meant to stay inside. A few of us might like our steaks bloody rare, and many of us donate our blood to help others live. Bleeding is part of the life cycle of every woman which is part of the cycle which includes birth.

We can’t really escape from all the images that blood brings – from horror movies to life-saving transfusions.

While the horror type images might be part of the early Judaeo traditions with angels killing oldest children or beating children to discipline them – ideas that are part of a very immature age to our own, all of the more positive images fit in very nicely with the idea of the Eucharist.

Indeed the Eucharist is a like a blood transfusion where Christ can actually be part of us, moving through our whole body as the blood that courses through it, and we can think of it as a donation of Jesus to help save lives.

In actuality Jesus was talking about his own death and the blood that would be spilt a few days later which would bring about the salvation of the world – the sacrifice of the spotless lamb whose blood washes clean the sins of mankind and opening up heaven’s doors again, taking away the power of death.

The second reading today from St. Paul uses the image of Christ, not Moses going into the Holy of Holies to be present with God, but he goes in not splashing blood as Moses did, but by having shed his own blood for us. Paul says that if sacrifices of goats and heifers purified people of their sins, how much more so would the blood of Christ permanently purify us from ours. And that is why, he says, Christ is the mediator, the go-between, of the new covenant between God and us who believe.

When we dip or drink the consecrated wine today, we are using a symbol but we believe it is more than just a symbol – it is the actual body and blood of Christ. Just a symbol would not allow the transfusion to take place – and indeed we are transfused each week. It is God’s gift to help us through the week, to keep us focused on what is good and to help us love both neighbor and enemy. So as you take communion today, please think about what it means to have Christ within us, his blood coursing through our bodies with ours, his body, digested and giving us sustained life.

It is good to look at the thing we celebrate each week but often take for granted, and it is Good News indeed that not only is Christ inside us, but we become part of Christ as well and share his body with all who are here! Another reason why Sunday Mass is so good for all of us!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 15, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

The reading from Jeremiah today is one of the most beautiful and inspiring in the Scriptures. God is speaking through Jeremiah the prophet and is explaining to the Hebrew people the difference between the Old and the New Covenant to come. In the beginning Israel was treated as a child and God acted as a disciplining but loving Father. Things were very black and white – do this and don’t this.

But as the Hebrews advanced in their knowledge and understanding of God, God became more of a husband, but in the early sense of husband, not in our understanding of the term today. Today we see husband and wife as equal, but when this was written the husband was totally in charge and the wife was a piece of property which the husband often came to love, but was not equal to the husband. It is in this sense that the second phase of God’s relationship with the Hebrews took form.

God says he was like a spouse to the Hebrews. God was the protector that took them by the hand and led them from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised Land. He expected their faithfulness, their love, their gratitude, their service, just as a husband in those days would.

But, God says, there is to be a new adult way in their relationship in the near future. In the new Covenant there will be complete knowledge of each other and the relationship will be based on love and equity. God will not remember how they failed in the past, but all will be forgiven, and all shall be one with God.

So what we see God describing is the movement from a childish understanding to a mature understanding of the relationship between God and people. The maturation process which hopefully all of us will go through in our own lives is reflected here as well.

The Psalm picks up on the forgiveness in its prayer to ask God to blot out our transgressions and wash us from our sins. This too is part of the news covenant as the waters of baptism do just that which their prayer is asking. The psalmist also asks “Put a new and right spirit within me “, and again that is part of the promise of the New Covenant that God talks about today. With that new spirit and having been saved, the psalmist goes on to say that we show our gratitude by helping others to know God and getting sinners to return to God.

The Gospel reading today from John sets up the way in which the New Covenant will be made to happen.

Greek speaking Jews come to Philip, probably because he could speak Greek and ask to speak to Jesus. They are probably there to ask him to widen his ministry and perhaps even go to Greece, but Jesus realizes that his time is coming to an end. Jesus seems to understand from all that is happening that his death is imminent. Jesus feels that the chance for expansion is over but that his death will bring an even greater thing to there world. He knows that this will upset the disciples who are still expecting some sort of hero riding in on a white horse to save them from the Romans. He uses a nature metaphor to help them understand that his death will be much like that in nature. A grain of wheat has to die and fall into the earth if it is to be reborn in the Spring. That is how seeds work. Then Jesus says, as he does in two other Gospels, that those who love their life lose it. In the other two Gospels the reference is to us but in John, I think Jesus is referring to himself and the inevitable about to happen.

John does not have an agony in the garden scene, but uses some of the lines from other Gospel accounts. Note how here when Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour”, note how much this is similar to the Agony in the Garden accounts. John, however, uses it as a help to explain why Jesus is able to accept the inevitable as part of God’s plan.

When God’s voice breaks through as it did at the Baptism and the transfiguration in other Gospels, we are being told that this is in effect the seal of approval on what Jesus is going through and the end result will be one of glorification and Jesus will be held up as light to all the world, not just to the Hebrews, so that Jesus, with his new understanding can see that he will be lifted up from the earth, and “draw all peoples to [him]self”.

This is the last week before Passion Week. We are almost at the end of our Lenten repentance. The events that are set in motion next week as described by the four evangelists illustrate exactly how this happens and how our salvation comes to be. I hope that you will plan to participate in all of the ceremonies of Holy Week. We will again have the triumphant walk of Palm Sunday, our traditional Passover meal on Thursday, our remembrance of Christ’s death on Friday and the most important liturgy of the year on Saturday night where we are reminded of the whole journey of salvation from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a big commitment of time,  I know, but one that will be well worth the effort as we too come to a mature understanding of what all this mean to us as we journey through this life to death and our final victory with Jesus.

And that is the Good News of hope I want to deliver today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is an interesting story, repeated many times in Hebrew Scriptures in many different ages, but essentially the same story. The Jews through intermarriage, through melding with other nations, through forgetfulness of their duty to God and God’s covenant fall into sinful ways. But, God never stops loving them, as the reading says, “because he had compassion his people and on his dwelling place.” I

n English the word compassion is the same meaning as “suffering with”. If Jesus exists throughout all time, God had indeed understood his creation and could suffer with us because he was one of us. I

n any case, God uses or allows outside forces to take away the promises of the covenant for a time. In this case it was the Babylonians who conquered the Hebrews and took them back into slavery in a foreign land. Because they had not observed the Sabbath for seventy years, they had to make up for those Sabbaths in captivity. In their sinfulness they had forgotten to keep the Sabbath sacred and devoted to God. And so in the Psalm today we hear the pleas of the Hebrew people far away from their homeland in Babylon, weeping by the rivers there, unable to sing a song in a foreign land. At the end of that time, however, God sent them a gift in the person of a non-Jew – Cyrus, King of the Persians, who let the remaining Hebrews go back to their land, and even built a new temple for them in Jerusalem. Cyrus was apparently visited by God and told to let the people go and to rebuild this Temple.

Now at the beginning i mentioned that this story was oft repeated because the pattern is the same. The Hebrews forget God, they fall into sinfulness, God punishes them, they repent and God rewards them. We hear this same pattern repeated over and over again. Don’t you think they would learn? We would think so!

But don’t we also repeat this same pattern in our lives. How often do we forget God, forget to keep God in our lives, miss Sunday services, don’t recharge our God battery, and fall into patterns of sinfulness? Maybe it is human nature to do this, to forget and take for granted. The one constant throughout this, though, is God’s compassion towards us. And how does that compassion show itself? Through grace!

In the second reading today Paul concentrates on the mercy and the love of God toward the constantly wavering creation. He tells us that we have been saved by grace, not our own doing, but as “a gift of God.” It is because of God’s compassion through Jesus Christ’s life and death that we merit salvation. And what should our response to this be? Doing good works. This is how we show our gratitude for what God has done for us. Note the difference in thinking here – we don’t do good works to merit a heavenly reward, a kingdom come, but we do good works because we have been given that kingdom and we need to thank God for it.

The Gospel today from John is part of the dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus and it includes the very famous lines which helped create atonement theology.. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Atonement theology suggests that human beings, having sinned and lost the right to heaven, are saved and gain back that right through the death and resurrection of Jesus, whose death is the ultimate sacrifice to God. Jesus in essence is a scapegoat for our sins. By his death satisfaction was made to God and we are restored to life and light once again as we were before Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

While there are alternate ways of looking at the God/Jesus story, what we can draw from this most common theological position is that thankfulness and good works are the means by which we can repent. We need to find ways to thank God. The ultimate thanksgiving is, of course, the Mass itself, since it is both a thanksgiving (the meaning of the word Eucharist) and a sacrifice re-enacted, done in memory of him who saved us. So going to Mass more often would be a great way of saying thanks, but the thanksgiving can take many forms in our prayer life, in our attention to the good things God has provided for us and in constant attention to his law of love for others.

The second way was what Deacon Gil talked about in his first lenten homily – doing good works. Choosing, not to take away something in repentance, but to find ways to help another, to do some good work for a neighbor, to be God-like in our compassion to others.  If we can find a way to do these two things during Lent – give thanks and show thanks – then we will better be ready for the great feast of Easter that we are preparing for. Let this be our prayer, then this week, that all of us find ways to thank God and be of service to our neighbor, especially the poor and displaced in society.

And this is the Good News that we are prompted to respond to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]