Intimacy, the Physical and the New Covenant – 5th Sunday in Lent

Behold, the days are coming, says Jehovah, when I will cut a new Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah …  this is the Covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel after those days, says Jehovah: I will put My teachings [TORAH]  in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be My People.  … for they all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them, says Jehovah…  [Jeremiah 31:31-34]

On the night before His death, Jesus gives us the Blood of a New Covenant and we are on the threshold of what God foretold through Jeremiah.  It is hard to not be confronted with the idea of Covenant as we draw near to Good Friday since it revolves around this key theme in the Bible.  This is a good time to look at the essential foundation from which this relationship comes.

What can be startling is the idea that Almighty God is hampered: He is hampered because in this universe He has no physical form by which we can recognize Him or see Him at work.  But please keep in mind that this was no accident –  He planned it this way.  He could have created the universe so that He could be obviously seen – after all, on the Last Day, in “the new heaven and the new earth,” there will be no trouble seeing God in His majesty.  So why then is He not to be seen in this present heaven and earth?

It is because God chose to do something we would never have imagined, and it is one of the great mysteries about Him. On one hand, He obviously does not need angels to accomplish His will, and for that matter, He really doesn’t need us either.  In fact, one might think that we humans too often get in His way and are too much of a bother and a liability to what He wants to do.  Yet His design is to make us be an essential partner in what He does.

Think about it: what activity does God do that does not depend on using humans?  Whether it be clothing the naked, or feeding the hungry, sheltering a stranger, touching the hurts of a person, taking ecological care of creation, or whatever the task may be, humans are the visible means by which these things are accomplished.  He does not use angels, and He will not do it in any other way.  In fact, we are so essential, that when we will not do what He wants, it just will not get done, even in such crucial things as demonstrating forgiveness, portraying love, or making disciples of all nations – somewhere a human has to be involved for these things to happen to others.

This actually hints at something even more astounding: this partnership is the result of an intimate closeness that Jehovah resolved would be between mankind and Himself – a closeness that is called “Covenant.”  Right from the beginning, Adam is in the image of God: the very breath of God is in Him; the Life of God flows through him; and he is the hands, heart, and representation of God to all of creation.  Although there are responsibilities and obligations, this connection is based upon the heart.

It is an intimacy that is sharply broken when Adam and Eve rebel.  Yet that very day, God steps in to give hope and to restore this connection: first, by means of a temporary fix through the sacrifices, but all the while, right from the beginning, also pointing to the more permanent solution of Jesus.  And Jehovah refuses to stand aloof from His original intent, so, in such yearning of His heart, time and again He reestablishes and reinforces this Covenant intimacy.

A most important example occurs with Abraham. Jehovah’s essence – Covenant would describe it as God’s Lifeblood –, now is to flow through Abraham’s veins and in his life.  This special bond between God and man is to be passed from generation to generation through the act of Circumcision.

Israel is established as God’s unique People – theirs now is that partnership where they would be God’s physical presence in this world: they would be His hands and feet and voice among the nations; through them would come the ultimate solution which would reestablish forever the intimacy that God had always determined for mankind.

But those early Covenants are flawed.  Yes, Israel fails in this relationship time and again and that is a weakness of these Covenants.  But actually the most telling flaws are both in the set-up of Covenant as well as in God Himself.

Covenant comes “out of the gate” flawed because as powerful as it appears, in reality it is actually impotent.  Throughout the Bible, indeed throughout the world, this relationship is based on the idea that by mingling the  Bloods of its participants it declares that now the same Blood flows between them: they are therefore joined by one Blood, one Life and one Soul.  In essence, they would become each other’s hands, feet, heart, and so forth – they would be the “physical representation” of each other; they would be a mirror reflection of the Covenant relationship between God and man.
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It is a wonderfully strong image, however it just is not true.  Yes, the participants’ commitment to the relationship may indeed be total and unbreakable, yet one Blood, one Life, one Soul do not really flow through the two of them.  The concept is there, but the reality is not.

The other flaw is just as crucial: throughout the whole Old Testament, God does not have Blood – so how can God and man share their Lifebloods when God has none?  This is the decided limp in His relationship with mankind.  God would always stop short from committing His full Self in Covenant. All He can do is to use another’s Blood, an animal’s Blood, not His own; His commitment is always through a proxy.

Again, remember that these flaws are not by mistake, nor by accident: God could do it a different way, yet His choice is to make this relationship defective in its origins so that there would be a certain frustration in it right from the beginning.

This is also what makes Christmas necessary.  We are stopped in our tracks and gaze in awe at a little Baby in a manger.  We are astonished because God has now thrown His total Being into human Body and Blood and has actually become one of us.  The intimacy that has limped for so long – that heartfelt desire of God so constricted throughout the centuries – now no longer can be held back.

But there is a new kind of Covenant in Christmas – it is the same and yet it is very unlike what has been there before.  In this Covenant, Jesus does not merely facilitate a relationship, nor does He merely contribute to a relationship – rather His Person – His Body and Blood – is that Covenant itself, in His very Body flows that one Blood between God and Man – it is that unbreakable and total intimacy between God and Man in the Person of Jesus, with no way possible to divide them apart.

This Lifeblood, this intimacy, is now poured into all God’s Covenants.  In Jesus’ Circumcision, this combined Lifeblood floods all the way back to the beginning of time, touching each person in Covenant along the way.  Now what Abraham and all the others originally experienced as a defective relationship with a God Who could not fully give Himself, instead now the full and total physical commitment of God’s Self washes through each Covenant-partner throughout all time, and God can and will indeed die for the sake of His Covenant-partner, just as He has promised.

And then as we come to the Cross we discover that this same LifeBlood flows in our direction as well, swirling from continent to continent, from baptized person to baptized person, from the first century until the very last day.  In Holy Communion, the indescribable intimacy of this unity of God and Man touches our lives; here Jesus’ LifeBlood literally enters into us, flows in us, and flows through us towards others.  Here is fulfilled what God intended when He first created man and woman, that we will be His physical representations on this earth, the visible awesome intimacy between God and Man, of which Covenant speaks.

Unfortunately, however, we have too much in common with Israel, we also fail in our partnership with the Lord.  It is easy to be knowledgeable about God; it is hard to live with God directing our lives.  It is easy to have God as our God; it is hard to be HIS People.  We want the benefits but not the costs.  In selfishness, we want God at our beck-and-call, but we do not want to be at His beck-and-call.  We want a God Who would die for us, but we do not want to be embarrassed, challenged, or even made to suffer for Him.

Yet Jesus is prepared for this: this is why His intent is that Holy Communion be offered frequently.  Here we come again to that table of our Lord on the night before His death, and we hear Him give to us His Covenant – the Blood of His Covenant – all over again.  Here is that inundation of intimacy, of the Lifeblood of God and Man again entering into us, flowing in and through us; and where the intimacy had been getting a bit thin in us before, now the Lifeblood is recharged and we again become the physical representation of God on this earth..

We have become partners once again with the God Who has never been shy about making us essential in His work in this world; once again we discover how vital we are as His hands, feet, voice, and heart; now once again we have been equipped to demonstrate forgiveness, to portray His love, to make disciples of all nations, and to exercise His care of our fellow man and of His creation.  As we participate in the Body and Blood of Jesus, we can taste what God has planned from the beginning and which He will bring to final completion on the Last Day.

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