The Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Promises made in baptism:
Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers?
In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
What’s a covenant all about?
May keep the covenant they have made…
That line from the collect we heard yesterday in church (a prayer printed above) made me stop and ask exactly what covenant the prayer is talking about. It also makes me think about what a covenant is.
As a parish priest, one of the things I do is meet with couples before they get married. That kind of preparation is something required by the church. Some couples view it as annoyance, a speed bump on the way to a big party, a hoop to jump through. Some regard the priest as judge, and worry that they better give the right answer.
That’s not the intention. Rather it is part and parcel of the call in the marriage service to avoid entering marriage unadvisedly or lightly. One of the big things I discuss with a couple is the idea that they are entering into a covenant with each other (The Prayer Book’s language, not mine). We talk about what that term means, and how it might perhaps differ from a contract or some other kind of agreement. The answer I hope to convey is that covenant suggests relationship, commitment not to a set of rules but to another person, to honor that person with all that you are and all that you have, to daily seek the best for that person in all circumstances, in all the curve balls that get thrown our way. At its heart, a covenant is an expression of love.
The other place we talk a lot about covenant in the life of the church is in baptism, when promises are made. That’s why the word pops up on a Sunday when we remember Jesus’ baptism. To me, like the marriage service, the covenant in baptism suggests a relationship, here between us and God. It is not intended as a commitment to a set of rules, as much as type-A religious types want to view it as such. It is a commitment to love of God and neighbor, the two inextricably bound to each other. It is a commitment to honor God and neighbor, which is what worship is all about, worship with our lips and with our lives.
So think this morning about the covenant(s) you have made in life. What kind of commitments have you made, spiritually speaking? Have you consciously made any? Maybe if you were baptized as an adorable, clueless infant, you have never thought about it. But the life of a Christian, the baptized life, is rooted in this covenant, expressed in promises which describe what the covenant looks like in life. The five baptismal promises are printed in full above. They indicate a commitment to continue in the life of community, to recognize that we mess up and seek to find a way back, to share good news with those around us, to serve all persons, and to be a force for justice and peace.
As the new year begins, as you reflect on the content of this covenant, ask as the collect does for the grace to live into those promises, which as the Prayer Book indicates, we can only do with God’s help. Our faith tells us it is the way of life, the way of love.