V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
When we read the Holy Bible, particularly the Old Testament, we get the impression that God expects humans to keep a covenant with Him. This sounds like a heavy obligation, more than just belonging to a religion or ethnic group. It is difficult to understand why God needs a covenant. What makes a covenant important? Is the idea of a “covenant” still relevant? People often use the term covenant to mean a practice of pleasing God or making a deal with Him. Together, we will explore the meaning of a covenant for God and for us, and if we are still “under the obligation” of the covenant to gain God’s favor.
To understand the relationship between God and human beings, it is important to look into the Book of Genesis. Humans living today differ from the first humans created by God. Allowing sin-death into our lives turned our lives into toiling to be in the presence of God. Sin, which causes death, blocks our attempts to forge a relationship with God. Recall the beginning of Creation, when merely living in the presence of the Tree of Life was enough to grant eternal life. In other words, death did not exist. When God “discovered” Adam’s sin, He told him: “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (Genesis 3:19) Adam and his descendants would henceforth work for their “lives:” salvation.
Of his own will and by his own decision, the first human being, cut his direct connection with the Creator, despite being created in His own image and likeness. In order to restore our connection with God, mankind needed to fight against sin and express their belongingness to Him. This comprised several practices, of which offering of sacrifice was the primary. While offering sacrifices primarily aimed to express gratitude and request remission of sins, it also expressed belongingness to God. For instance, when the flood ended Noah made an offering to God as an expression of gratitude. In other words, Noah acknowledged that God saved him, and His power was salvific. When God saw Noah’s offering, He made a covenant of reconciliation with humankind. Proceeding through the Old Testament, we see that God’s purpose for His people is their salvation. “Salvation” means more than being saved from death and sin, but to be brought back to His Heavenly Kingdom, to the True Life. Further, what would be the meaning of salvation or the eternal life, if it’s nothing more than just living forever? On the contrary, our connectedness with God-the Creator is a relationship. We belong to His Life, because we were drawn from His breath, in His image and likeness. The covenant shows that we belong to Him and reflects faithfulness to our relationship with Him.
Jesus’s resurrection shifted our understanding of covenant. Christ already paid the price for our sins, to save us from death. This makes it important for us to show that we accept the grace of Christ’s salvation. The Holy Eucharist represents God’s new covenant. During the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy, we are reunited with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life. Here, we should remember one of Jesus’s statements recorded in the Gospel of John: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser… Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:1-4) We are branches on the Vine, and can only bear fruits through Him, the source of life. The Gospel writer uses the word “abide” to express belongingness to God. Moreover, through these words we understand what covenant makes us belong to God and allows us to enter His Heavenly Kingdom. The answer is His blood: the Holy Eucharist that makes us abide in Christ and express our belongingness to Him. In other words, we acknowledge His salvific power and reliance on Him, and promise to keep our bond with Him.
Sometimes, we feel as if God has so many expectations of us. Through Christ we understood that we are connected with our Creator as a child with a Parent. This relationship of love requires commitment, devotion, and growth. The Divine Liturgy helps us connect with God our Creator through Christ with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Symbolically, the Liturgy is like dialysis. We connect our veins to Jesus’s body where we cleanse and renew our blood and our lives through His salvific and miraculous body and blood. This allows us to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom, our Home. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is our covenant, by which we express our gratitude, ask for remission of our sins and proclaim that we belong to Him now and forever, amen.