Thursday, August 14, 2008

Josiah and Jeremiah: covenantal difficulties and hope

Preparing for an Old Testament class tonight, my 'ex-Bible College of NZ, now-Laidlaw College' notes alerted me to something I had never thought of before.

When Josiah embarks on the Great Reformation of Judah and Israel, he does so with all the fervour of Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer combined. Bad religious practices, including idolatry and cultic, male and female prostitution were driven out, burned and scattered as the case required. A new reading of Scripture is instituted upon the discovery of the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy?). Politically, Josiah attempts to reunite the northern and southern kingdoms into a renewed Davidic Israel. Excellent!

But, and its quite a big 'but', when Josiah dies the old ways creep back in. Cut to Jeremiah. He is quite affirming of Josiah (which says something, because compliments and Jeremiah did not occur often in the same sentence!). He is prophetically critical of the true state of the then State of Israel: post-Josiah they are disobedient, feckless, faithless, stoney in heart, etc. Through Jeremiah the LORD eventually moves from the difficulties to the possibilities. A new covenant will be instituted, a covenant of the heart, empowered by the Spirit, full of new life.

Now cut to the Communion today. Lambeth has reaffirmed the process towards an Anglican Covenant. Many bishops have come from Lambeth recognising that, though the difficulties real and imagined are many, the proposed Covenant is the "only" way forward. Personally I have been and remain wholly supportive of this next step in the development of the Communion's formal self-understanding. But the 'Josiah and Jeremiah' narrative gives pause for thought. For a Covenant to "work", with all the biblical importance attached to the concept of Covenant, then adherents need to sign with hand and heart. The triumph of Covenant in 21st century Anglicanism is not getting people round a table with pens signing dotted lines - it is getting Anglicans living out what the Covenant means.

That could mean that the Covenant evolves into a more or less meaningless document because that is the only one divided Anglicans can agree to sign. But it could mean the reconfiguration of Anglicanism will take place first, so that the Covenant is a binding, heartfelt agreement between Anglicans of sufficiently like mindedness.

Today, however, we are told we are some years away from signing any document. That suggests a need for continued prayer: both for the Covenant Design Group and for each and every one of us - that we might have a heart for the proposed Covenant. That heart, of course, in Jeremiad terms will be of flesh, not stone, full of the true Spirit of the living God!

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