"Covenant on Our Hearts" Pastor Kinsey
In the final episode of Season 2 on This Is Us, Kate finally gets married! If you’re not familiar with it, this is the show about the triplets, now in their 30’s, that weaves-in the storyline of their childhood, revealing the tragic death of their father, which continues to shape their adult lives.
The episode’s drama starts, when just hours before Kate is supposed to walk down the aisle, she walks away, without telling anyone where she’s going. And – spoiler alert! – it looks like the wedding may fall through. She leaves the family cabin in search of ‘something old,’ for good luck, because Toby, her husband-to-be, forgot to pack her dad’s old t-shirt, she’s nostalgically been holding on to.
But she has an idea. She drives in town to their childhood ice cream shop to get a pint of her favorite flavor she used to eat with her dad, as the ‘something old.’ But that was 30 years ago, and, now under new ownership, they don’t carry it anymore.
In a growing panic she calls her mom, who’s already walking on egg shells, worried she caused Kate to drive away. In a rare moment of intimacy, Kate shares the recurring dreams she’s been having about her wedding – in the dream though, she’s not getting married, she’s watching her mother and deceased father walk down the aisle, to renew their vows on their 40th anniversary. Her mom asks Kate why Toby, her fiancé, isn’t in the dream, which Kate hadn’t thought of. And then the call ends abruptly, still without knowing where Kate is!
Now her mom’s in a panic, and in the next scene, we find Kate clutching her dad’s funeral urn sitting on a tree-stump where they used to sit in the woods, 3 decades ago, just the two of them. It looks like it could be disastrous, but Kate actually has had a break-through! She realizes she has to let her dad go, so she can give herself fully to Toby and her new life, and she will end up pouring dad’s remains alongside the tree stump.
At the wedding ceremony, everyone is reunited, brothers and sister, moms and children, and, Kate and Toby, happily pledge their love for each other, so that we know what a perfect match they are. Kate has found the one who is even better for her than her dad was, just as dad promised her. Instead of walking away, she is ready to walk, hand in hand, and to freely unite, with Toby.
Marriage is the covenant we make between those we love, those we can share our lives with, most intimately, who we pledge to stand by, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death parts us.
It’s interesting, I think, that the covenant promise God makes at the end of the New Testament, in Revelation, about when God’s new age will arrive, is a wedding image as well. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,” said John of Patmos, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” A beautiful way to conclude the scriptures, and surely one of the most enduring of God’s covenanting images – Marriage!
We’ve been reflecting on God’s ‘covenants’ during this Season of Lent, based on our First Readings: the covenant between God and all humanity made with Noah and his family; the covenant between God and Abraham and Sarah, to make of them a great nation; the covenant between God and Moses that the chosen people would be loved to the 1,000th generation, and also, to save the people from death – and now today’s covenant, that “God will put God’s law within them, and will write it on their hearts,” and “God will forgive their iniquities and remember their sin no more.”
The sign of the rainbow; the gift of a son, Isaac; the writing of the 10 Commandments on stone; and the bronze serpent on a pole lifted up – these are all parts of the journey of God’s people, tied to the gift of the Land. God builds on the covenant of God’s own making, from the beginning, from Creation.
But only here, in the prophet Jeremiah, do we find the language of a “new” covenant. This is a covenant, needed, after the Exile – after the people of God broke the previous agreements so clearly and decisively, that God in an unprecedented move, empowered Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, to destroy the holy city of Jerusalem, and take them away into Gentile land as captives. So a new covenant upon their return, will be necessary. It “will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt” at the Passover, “ – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.”
So God doesn’t just re-ink the old covenants. God envisions something much deeper in a relationship with God’s people. It will not be as rote as reading and writing the 10 Commandments, as laborious as Catechism class or Yeshiva. “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD…”
This new covenant will be made with the house of Israel, after the days of coming home and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The new law will be ‘within them, written on their hearts!’
This is a covenant God made with the returning Exiles, 500 years before Jesus and the early church spoke the words about the Cup of a ‘New Covenant in Christ’s blood.’ So even when Jeremiah’s language rings harmoniously in our ears all these centuries later, we must be clear about what God’s covenant in Jeremiah is. It is first to the Jews, as St Paul said, and only then, to the Gentiles. Israel is the root and stem, we are the branches.
So the most faithful question for us today may be, whether any of us, Jew or Christian, show forth, the new heart and new spirit, that God has promised to effect within us? (Patrick D. Miller; NIB, Jeremiah)
There are clearly issues we have failed at, including marriage and family – but also in every other social contract. If, for example, we all knew God’s covenants from within, on our hearts, ?would our economy be so rife with inequality and oppression? How might we be more faithful to all people, providing equal opportunity, instead of propping up a system that favors those who have the most already, and rewards the goal of satisfying our own bassist desires, which can only create economic infidelity?
“We defile the holy when we love good things for our own sake,” says Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “deadening our sense of intimacy and connection with God.” But as a people of faith, “…To [covenant and] make promises, is to proclaim that a culture of mistrust has been interrupted by One whom we can trust [ - by our God]. [And calls us] to live as a sign of God’s faithfulness, …as we struggle to grow into fidelity [with our neighbor].” (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove CC, August 2, 2012)
At our last Lenten Wednesday, we heard from Jennifer Viets about one promising technique of fidelity used in restorative justice, called, the Talking Circle, where a group of people agree to sit in a circle, facing one another, to talk through an issue, a lot like Recovery groups do. A symbol, like an eagle feather, is held in turn by each person, who, one at a time, speak their truth from the heart, and share their story of sorrow or injustice, or respond to the hurts of others, without being interrupted, except by the One we trust, and let the Spirit of reconciliation and understanding enter in. It’s small group democracy – but not necessarily small in effect! As Jennifer told us, her own teenaged son was inspired from his Talking Circle to start a movement for restorative justice, that took a group of youth all the way to the United Nations, and then later spawned the, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ quilt exhibit, which is here in our Gallery.
This is the original purpose of God’s covenants with us. To create trust and love between all peoples, that we may ‘all know God from the least to the greatest,’ as Jeremiah says. And that we might fulfill that ultimate covenant agreement, to be married to our all-loving-God, ‘in the new city, coming down from heaven.’
As we continue our Lenten journey to the cross and resurrection, let us lean more deeply into the covenant of our baptismal vows, knowing that God is a God who loves us completely, without conditions, and beyond death.