Thursday, January 2, 2014

Covenant Renewal for 2014

           We are a people who mark time.  We annually celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  Oh, not just wedding anniversaries, though we certainly do that, but all kinds of anniversaries.  -  As Christians, we live our lives according to a particular calendar.  It is a rhythm that orders our lives around the life of Jesus our Lord.  And so, as Christians, our “new year” began about a month ago with the First Sunday of Advent.  As prepare to post this article, we are in the midst of the Christmas Season; the 9th Day of Christmas, to be exact.
            And yet, while we are not “of the world,” we are certainly “in the world,” and, as such, we also celebrated the beginning of a New Year, yesterday, January 1st.  New Year’s Eve/Day has its own customs, as well.  For many it includes staying up past (or at least until) midnight, kissing that special someone, and . . . making New Year’s resolutions.  This last part allows us to look back on the year we are concluding, and look ahead; to think about where we would like to see changes in our lives.
            Oh, New Year’s resolutions get a lot of flak.  I mean, people are always talking about making the resolution on day one, and then breaking them by the next month (or week . . . or, even day!).  Yet, that doesn’t have to be the case.  It is possible to set goals, and to work to reach those goals.  -  New Year’s provides a great opportunity to do that.
            However, there are other ways to mark the coming of a New Year.  One way that John Wesley and many of the early Methodist Societies marked the beginning of a new year was by joining together in renewing their covenant with God.  This wasn’t the only time that they did this (one finds numerous instances throughout his Journal), but it was an opportune time.
            They would renew this covenant by way of the Covenant Service, the roots of which were found in a 1663 publication by the Puritan, Richard Alleine.  In 1753, Wesley published a copy of Alleine’s work in his A Christian Library.  And, on August 11, 1755, it is likely that the first “Covenant Service” for Methodists took place using a chapter from Alleine’s work.
            In 1780, Wesley published the service in pamphlet form for distribution and use.  Today, The United Methodist Book of Worship provides a much edited version of the service, updating the language and adapting it to fit within the Basic Four-fold Pattern of worship, but still retaining that part of Wesley’s service that included the Invitation and Covenant Prayer.

            In 2012, New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday.  That year, while my local congregation did not use either Wesley’s Covenant Service, or the one provided in The Book of Worship, we did include in worship the very brief “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” found on page 607 of The United Methodist Hymnal.  This year does not provide us with the same opportunity.
            Given our context, few in our congregation would be willing to venture out for a Watch Night Service.  January 1st fell on a Wednesday rather than a Sunday, this time around.  Plus, I am on vacation and didn't want to impose this on our guest preacher!  -  Nevertheless, I believe that it is appropriate and good for us to begin a new year by focusing our attention on the Lord and on our relationship with the Lord.  Like John Wesley, I believe that an excellent means of doing this is for us to “renew our covenant with the Lord.”

            Therefore, I wanted to provide a portion of the Covenant Service so that we might, each one, renew our covenant with the Lord in a way that is still connected with each other.  For, as each of us prays these prayers, and renew our own covenant, we do so knowing that we are joining with our fellow Methodists through the ages.

Beloved in Christ,
let us again claim for ourselves
this covenant which God has made with his people,
and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
This means that we are content
That he appoint us our place and work,
And that he himself be our reward.
Christ has many services to be done:
some are easy, others are difficult;
some bring honour, others bring reproach;
some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests,
others are contrary to both;
in some we may please Christ and please ourselves;
in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ,
who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make this covenant of God our own.
Let us give ourselves to him,
Trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.
Lord God, holy Father,
since you have called us through Christ
to share in this gracious covenant,
we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience
and, for love of you,
engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen
The article above was adapted from my recent newsletter article for the Centenary United Methodist Church.

The version of the Covenant Prayer, above, was taken from The Methodist Worship Book of The Methodist Church in Britain.

For more information on “The Covenant Service,” and other versions of it, see:

The Book of Worship for Church and Home, The Methodist Publishing House (The Methodist Church, pre-United Methodist Church), 1965, p 382-88.

The Church Rituals Handbook, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1997, p 199-213

The Methodist Worship Book, Methodist Publishing House (The Methodist Church in Britain), 1999, p 281-96.

The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989, p 607.

The United Methodist Book of Worship, The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, p. 288-94.

Wesley Hymns, Lillenas Publishing Co., 1982, p. A-1 – A-10.

For more online versions of "The Covenant Service," see the following:
(Thanks to James B. Chapman for the following links)

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