The Word Embodied
In the Beginning Was Covenant
“Do this in remembrance.” (1 Cor 11:25)
God willed not only to create the world, but to enter into relationship with it. God wanted the created world to be charged with personal existence. Creation would know God back. Creation would love God in return.
And so it was that we were enfranchised with intellect and will, gifts that made possible a free act of love. We were endowed with the ability to commit ourselves. We could enter covenant.
God said, “Let it be.” Even more, God said, “I enter into covenant with you.” Yet we mere humans were unequal to the task. The risk of personal relationship, of faith and hope and love, while so godly, was somehow also too frightening for us. It required that we accept our creaturely state. It meant that we would have to admit our dependence upon and our free obedience to the holy Other. This, we resisted. And the sorry tale has been told since Eden.
But God was relentless. Even if we reject the proposition, God would ply us with promises of gifts, holy signs, and steadfast guidance. Covenantal relationship, the very life of the Trinity, would never be withdrawn from us, even if we are lost in a sinful state. The divinity would hold itself bound to us. Thus Noah had his rainbow, Abraham his improbable descendants, Moses the covenant of law, David the ark in his palace. And among the prophets of covenant appeared Melchizedek with bread, wine, and blessing given to Abram and Abram’s God.
Melchizedek’s gesture foreshadowed our final covenant, our new law, our ultimate promise that we and the Holy Spirit make present in Eucharist. Christ’s body and blood is the covenant. He himself is the promise of God. We in turn affirm our side of the covenant, proclaiming the mystery of faith: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”
Paul reminded the Corinthians of this covenantal promise in words similar to those we find in Luke and Mark: “This is my body, which is for you. ... This cup is the new covenant in my blood. ... Do this in remembrance of me.”
Eucharistic images, such as the miraculous multiplication account in the Gospel of Luke, are all harbingers of the undying relationship between God and us. Our daily consecrations remember and re-enact the reality of God’s covenantal love.
They also remind us, however, what it is that God so much wants from us. It is that relationship, that free “yes,” that gaze back that says with all one’s heart, “I do believe, I hope, I love.”
The poet Charles Péguy wrote in his work God Speaks that after all the magnificence of mountains and depth of the seas, God wanted something else. It was not power or might; it was not the submission of slaves; it was not the automatic response of robots. It was covenant. It was consent. After one has been loved freely in return, submission loses its taste. All the blind submission in the world is not equal to the beautiful soaring-up point in a single invocation of a love that is free.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University