The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018, Year B[1]

The New Covenant of Reconciliation

 

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN 

The readings for today are a rich source of sermons. Any reading by itself would make a nice sermon. It’s tempting to preach on every idea here but maybe I’ll save some of my thoughts for another time. I know I just heard a collective sigh of relief. 

First, some background on the readings from the Johns. The Gospel reading is from the fourth Gospel. Three of the Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they all tell many of the same events in Jesus’ life in essentially the same order, although there are differences. The Gospel according to John, is different from the other three Gospels. It does not include a birth narrative, and its beginning verses are a poetic and heavenly description of Jesus. Many scholars believe the authorship of John is anonymous; but many others believe that it is the beloved disciple John, to whom Jesus gave his mother for her protection upon his death, who wrote the fourth Gospel. 

The three Johannian epistles, we heard a reading from I John this morning, are also believed to have been written by John the Apostle because of stylistic and vocabulary similarities. But there is controversy about the authorship. The debates have gone on for a long time, at least 1,500 years, so let’s face it, we are not going to solve it today. Wouldn’t it be fun if we could, though? 

There is another book in the New Testament, Revelation, which is sometimes attributed to the same John but, in general it is not believed to have been written by the beloved disciple for several reasons: it was written at a later date when John would not have been alive, the vocabulary and linguistic style are quite different from the other books attributed to John the Apostle. It is believed to have been written on Patmos, one of the Greek Islands by someone called a Christian prophet (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. p.1594ff). OK! Enough of this sort of scholarship, now let’s address the question of what does this mean? 

We have had a grand and glorious Easter, haven’t we, with fabulous flowers, (thank you flower guild), marvelous music (thank you Ellen, choir, and Lighthouse Brass), beautiful silver and hangings by the Altar Guild (than you Jackie and Altar Guild) and a church full of people. What a beautiful experience to worship with so many families, friends, and neighbors, don’t you agree? 

In our 50 days of Easter, and the ensuing seasons, we are heading into Jesus’ life and ministry, looking for a deeper understanding of what it means, entering the ephemeral clouds of theology. There’s so much here that explains our Christian faith, you might think you are sitting in a course in Christian Theology. And present with us is a New Testament theology scholar, Father Hartt, do you want to change places with me. Oh, you don’t? I guess you are stuck with me. 

Let’s start with the phrase “a new Covenant of reconciliation” found in our Collect for today. A covenant means “a solemn agreement between two or more parties, made binding by some sort of oath. What is mutually agreed upon is the future conduct of one or both of the parties concerned” (op.cit. p. 288). The Old Testament has several covenants which God made with his people, the ancient Israelites; one covenant, the Noahic covenant, applies to all people, where God promises not to send another flood like the one Noah experienced. The other covenants include Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, and Davidic. They make an interesting study to see how God’s relationship with his people changed over time. 

 What Jesus is talking about at the Last supper with his disciples is a new covenant. Jesus, at the Last Supper in Luke 22:20 says: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” and in Mark 14:24 he says: ‘this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.’’ And in Matthew 26:27 it is written: “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying: ‘Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” 

Reconciliation is a key word in this phrase: the new covenant of reconciliation. It is the end of the estrangement from God (caused by the acts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they disobeyed God by eating of the fruit forbidden to them by God. 

Through Christ we are eternally reconciled to God and commanded to live our lives according to God’s description of what life in Christ is all about. What life in Christ is all about is what is contained in the new commandment Jesus gave us as found in Matthew 22:38. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” and all your strength” as added by Mark 12:30. “And you are to love your neighbor as yourself.” So, what are the implications of being reconciled to Christ through his blood? 

Psalm 113 tells us that it is good and pleasant when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity for there the Lord has ordained his blessing for ever more. Here is one of the signs that we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s applicable in other ways as well. Every time we serve the families of Family Promise we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. Visiting congregants in the hospital, taking communion to those who can not come to church, caring for those who were devastated by Sandy, caring for the beautiful gardens in the columbarium, knitting dementia friendly objects that can be manipulated by nervous hands, making beautiful jewelry and selling it to support Family Promise, and many, many other individual acts of kindness that you have performed for others are all signs of loving others as we love ourselves. All these acts make a deacon’s heart sing. I hope they make yours sing, too because they represent how we take the new covenant seriously: to love our neighbors as our selves. 

Now we come to the Epistle of First John with its beautiful language that describes what we can also experience in Jesus Christ because of the new covenant. After we suffer with him on Good Friday and experience his death; though we are not on the cross with him, many of us feel his agony in our hearts. And so, it is also true that we can feel resurrection, too. “The infinite love of God Himself took shape before us” (ch.1: v2). “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”  We are filled with the joy of victory over death, the mortal enemy finally vanquished. Every year we can relive this cycle of life into death into life again; and know the victory Jesus gave us over death. We walk in his light. 

All the time I am writing this sermon there is a gospel hymn that is occupying a part of my mind (not that I have that much left to share any more). The hymn is O Happy Day. How many of you know it? Its words are meant to be sung thus it’s not readable. When you go home today, Google has productions of the song that you can play, and it will make your heart sing. Just Google O Happy Day and listen to the happiness in the song and see if it matches what you feel when we truly understand the great gift of Jesus, the price he paid for it and the true freedom and joy which ours because of what he did for us.  AMEN

 


[1] Acts 4:32-35

  I John 1:1-2:2

  John 20:19-31