Many Methodist churches hold a special service in January, called a Covenant Service. Think of this as a New Year service, where we consider New Year’s resolutions, the year that has passed and the year that is to come.
The difference between a Methodist Covenant Service and an ordinary New Year’s Resolution, though, is that it is less about US making promises, and more about God’s promises to us. We look back on the past year and pause to reflect on the many ways that God has been faithful to us – the many ways God has blessed us and been with us through the year. This also causes us to reflect on our faithfulness (or otherwise) to God. In the service itself we read Scripture passages which remind us of the many times God says “I will be your God and you will be my people; my faithfulness is unchanging”.
Then we look forwards to the new year and commit ourselves afresh to God, asking God to take us and use us for his Kingdom work in whatever form that may take. We say together the Covenant Prayer, either in traditional language (Wesley’s original) or in a more modern form such as this:
Lord, I am no longer my own but yours
Your will, not mine, be done in all things
Wherever you may place me
In all that I do and in all that may happen to me
When there is work for me and when there is none
When I am troubled and when I am at peace
Your will be done
When I am valued and when I am ignored
When I find meaning in what I do, and when I don’t
When I have all things and when I have nothing
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you
As and where you choose
Glorious and Amazing God
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
You are mine and I am yours
May it be so for ever
Let this covenant now made on earth
Be fulfilled in heaven.
The word ‘covenant’ itself is a complex word, with its connotations of promises and legal contracts, but if we think of it as a seriously-made vow we are on the right lines. The word ‘faithful’ is another complex word, and we frequently talk about ‘the faithfulness of God’, but it we think of that in the context of one who takes promises seriously and keeps them, then again we are on the right lines.
In our Covenant sermon at St Martin’s I spoke about the various covenantal signs throughout the Bible – for example the sign of the rainbow, the sign of the Ark, the sign of circumcision and the sign of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. All these Old Testament covenants were based on Law, and each was also associated with blood or death in some way. When we come to the New Testament, Jesus offers us a New Covenant relationship through his blood shed on the cross. This time, the covenant is one not of law but of grace – it depends on God’s faithfulness, not ours. The sign of the covenant is the Cross, and the empty tomb of the resurrection, and we recall the wonder of God’s grace in this New Covenant each time we celebrate Holy Communion and listen afresh to those gracious words “Do this in remembrance of me, for this is my blood of the New Covenant”.
As 2015 unfolds, may you know God’s grace to you, God’s faithfulness in your life, and God’s love for you in Jesus Christ. May God’s Holy Spirit be your strength and guide as you seek to respond to that love with the offering of your life for the work of God’s kingdom here on earth.