Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to hold fast to God’s covenant.
Now what does it mean to hold fast to God’s covenant?
This morning we heard a reading from the book of Isaiah.
The book of Isaiah is roughly in the middle of the Bible right after the Song of Solomon and before the book of Jeremiah.
The book of Isaiah is one of the best-known books in the Old Testament.
Isaiah is often quoted in the New Testament and it is the longest of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.
The book offers both words of judgment and words of hope and promise.
This particular Isaiah reading speaks of commitment and faithfulness to God.
In the book of Isaiah chapter 56 verse six we hear:
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant… (and then the prophet continues) (these people) will I bring to my holy mountain.”
Those who hold fast to my covenant.
The Bible is filled with the word covenant.
In the Old Testament the word covenant is used 280 times and in the New Testament it is used 33 times.
The word is used to describe two or more groups coming together.
It refers to two groups coming together in a tight unbreakable bond.
In the Bible when covenant is used between God and God’s people God initiates the covenant between God and the people.
God decides how the covenant will be lived out and God confirms and seals the covenant with his people.
In this Isaiah reading one of the key ways that God’s people hold fast to the covenant is by keeping the Sabbath.
God’s people had just returned home from the exile in Babylon.
The people were trying to figure out how to begin a new now that they were back home.
And while they are figuring out their new life together, they are not to forget the Sabbath.
This is more than simply taking one day off a week to rest.
Here Isaiah is reminding the returning exiles to remember the deeply intimate bond that God has with God’s people.
Sabbath keeping is a way for the people to remain in relationship with God.
Keeping the Sabbath was a way for the people to remember each and every week that they have a very special bond with God – it was the mark that they were God’ people the Israelites who have a covenant with the creator of the whole world.
In addition to keeping the Sabbath as a holy day set aside during the week to worship God the people are to love God, to do justice and what is right, and to refrain from evil.
This response to God holds fast God’s covenant with us.
Those who are faithful hold fast to the covenant.
In the Bible God is constantly and relentlessly reminding the people of his covenant with them.
And when God’s people break God’s covenant the relationship is not destroyed because God continues to remain faithful to God’s people.
You find this truth again and again in the Bible.
In fact, in another book in the Old Testament the book of Jeremiah chapter thirty-one we hear this great promise proclaimed: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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 – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, said the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 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; for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
In Jeremiah we hear the prophecy of a new covenant.
God promises to keep God’s covenant with God’s people even though in the Old Testament the covenant was broken again and again as people chased after false gods.
Today we believe that God made the new covenant with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is why every time that we hear the Words of Institution we hear these words: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to all to drink saying this cup is the new covenant shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.”
Have you noticed that the word covenant is used in the Words of Institution?
When I was in seminary, I was taught to never distribute Holy Communion without first saying the Words of Institution so that the people can make the connection of this new covenant that God makes with us through Jesus Christ.
Every time we receive Holy Communion, we remember the covenant that we have with God.
The cup of Christ is the real presence of our Lord which seals the new covenant with us.
The cup is God’s unconditional love for us spilled out through the death of Christ.
The promise of the covenant is for us… true forgiveness for you and for all of God’s people.
Our response to God is that of faithfulness to God and to the ways of our Lord.
We continue to hold fast to the covenant and the promises that come from the covenant – life today and tomorrow and eternal life in the age to come.