New covenant - new commandmentChris Collins
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
and renew the face of the earth.
The word which we have in our New Testament for new comes from two different words in the original Greek. One word indicates that something is new in the sense that it is the latest example, or just recently made. The second word is much more significant: it means that the object referred to is a completely fresh idea, an innovation which previously has not been seen.
In the NT, it is this second word for new which outstrips the other by about four to one. This newness - innovation, the like of which has never been seen before - runs through the whole of the NT, and is all to do with the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit as a consequence of the earthly work of Jesus Christ. This is the age of the Spirit, and we live in a time when the promise of complete newness is being fulfilled.
In particular, we can see how this newness is related to the Eucharist. In the first three gospels, this is the word which is used to describe the 'new covenant in my blood'. Covenant was a basic idea for the Jew; the solemn agreement between God and his people first made to Noah, and then to Abraham, and ratified on Sinai in the giving of the Ten Commandments. The covenant described the secure relationship between God and the Jewish people, a relationship cemented by sacrifice and ritual. It was by covenant that God lived with his chosen race, and in response his people offered him their worship.
It must have been a surprise to the apostles when, at the Last Supper, Jesus talked of a new covenant in his blood; new not in the sense of an improvement, but new because it swept away the old. It was not just the symbolism given to the bread and the wine which would have caught the disciples' attention; it was that the sacrifice of worship was offered by Jesus himself in his own death. They began to realize that God did not just come to meet his people, as he had in the temple worship; but in Jesus, God lived an earthly life and instituted a perfect means of communication between God and man - and this was something completely new.
The Holy Spirit's work
By the work of the Holy Spirit, we continue to stand in this new covenant with God; and in offering our eucharistic worship, we extend the range of the influence of this indwelling of God with man. Just as Jesus brings God to the world, so by our worship in the power of the Spirit we take the world to God.
It is significant that John's equivalent to the new covenant in the synoptic gospels is the new commandment of love which is given to the disciples at the Last Supper. If God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, then our Christian witness and worship will also be full of God's own love - and this is something we could never have expected to be able to share in. The new covenant is, by the Spirit, also a sharing in the love which circulates, as it were, in the very heart of God.
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
and renew the face of the earth
- and start with me.
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