Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

“Time and again you offered them covenants”. So, says the 4th Eucharistic Prayer. Covenants are the theme of this Lent’s first readings. On the 1st Sunday of Lent, we heard of the Covenant made through Noah, last Sunday of the Covenant with Abraham, this Sunday we hear the Law – the 10 commandments – the ground rules of the Covenant with Israel made through Moses at Mt Sinai. Next Sunday, we hear how the people and their rulers violated that covenant and were sent into exile, until released seventy years later back to the promised Land. And then on the 5th Sunday, the prophet Jeremiah tells of a new covenant written in the human heart. And so, step by step, we come to Jesus, we come to the Eucharist and the Cross, the signs of the new and everlasting covenant sealed by his blood.

What is a covenant? An agreement between two parties, a “deal”. In the Bible, an agreement that creates a relationship. It’s best understood and first experienced in family life. Family life is built on the covenant, explicit, implicit, between husband and wife, between parents and children. We will stick together. We’re there for each other. The other day I met an Imam here in Aberdeen. He’s a Palestinian, and since the Israeli offensive he has lost 30 close relatives, including brothers and sisters. Thirty! And part of the reason, he explained, is that Palestinian families, as they extend, with in-laws and cousins and all the rest, tend to keep living physically close together. Such is their sense of the family covenant. Therefore, one bomb, one collapsing building, can cause this terrible loss. We can say that in all these covenants, God is calling us to be his family. The 10 commandments spell out what it means to live as members of that family: in relation to Him (the first three commandments) and to one another (the other seven). The commandments serve the covenant.

It’s all about bonding. Left to ourselves we scatter. Of course, we grow up and leave home; that’s natural. But life is often marked by something darker: relationships break, human society fragments. Our pride, our egoism, our individualism tear the fabric. We live in a world where covenants are not kept. Yet, in this fluidity, we need them more than ever. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: these three are indissolubly one; three persons, one nature. And their whole work of salvation is to bring us, with all our diversity, into a oneness of love that images theirs. “Time and again, you offered them covenants”. The work of the Church serves this divine plan. We need only think of the Eucharist; the ministry of Pope Francis too at its level. In his Evangelii Gaudium, he was trying to answer the question, how can the Gospel, the mission, bring humanity back to the covenant with God? In the Encyclical Fratelli tutti, his concern was, how can the social covenant be remade, amid so many divisions? In Laudato Si, how can the covenant of man and nature be restored? Think of Lent too: prayer is re-covenanting with God, almsgiving with our fellow human beings, fasting with our bodies and the world of food. Lent is returning to the covenants that hold us together.

And where is it all going? Our brave Catechumen is just about to remind us. It is going to Easter, to the risen Christ. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up”, says the Lord. We are going to this new, indestructible Temple: the Body of the risen Christ. A catechumen’s profession of faith is entry to that Body, that Temple. It’s personal covenanting. Faith is a bond. At the Easter Vigil, on Easter Sunday, we renew it too. We re-covenant after sin whenever we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At every Eucharist, we take our place at the meal of the Covenant. God’s loving plan is the wedding of the Lamb, and Easter is its sacrament.

So, brothers and sisters, in a breaking world, we’re called to reconnect, with God, one another and the world. Let’s choose our loyalties carefully, thoughtfully, freely and be loyal to them. Let’s be a covenanted people.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 3 March 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122