After our Lenten journey of penitential contemplation and intensified spiritual devotion, we come to the pinnacle of the Church Year known as Holy Week. It is the time of year we focus on the events of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his last supper, his torture, his crucifixion, his sacrificial death, and his glorious resurrection. And, as I reflect on the sacred events of Holy Week, I also find myself drawn to the following words of the Apostle Paul from the Book of Galatians:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith made effective through love” (Galatians 5:6).
“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who follow this rule – peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Galatia in order to remind them of the New Covenant of God through Christ, based on God’s universal grace, not on works prescribed by the laws and ordinances of the Old Testament (as it says in Galatians). He reminded them (and us) that the New Testament of Christ fulfills all the promises and covenants of the Old Testament for ALL people everywhere, not just for Jesus’ fellow Jewish people.
Therefore, God’s promises and covenants to the Hebrew People (which are still in effect for them) are now also universally extended to all people by God’s grace in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. So, while there is still the literal People of Israel (the Jewish People), there is also an expanded spiritual “Israel of God” (the universal Israel in Christ Jesus) which is absolutely everyone who trusts in the Lord: Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, and so on (see Galatians 3 and 6).
In both Galatians and Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that all people are “heirs” of God’s covenant promises to Abraham by God’s grace through faith in Christ. From Galatians 3 and Romans 3, we hear that all people are “descendants of Abraham” and “heirs according to the promise” by “the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Therefore, even the promised blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are now extended to all people through the Messiah of God, Jesus (Yeshua), not by our own religious works prescribed by the law. In other words, the Abrahamic inheritance given to the Hebrews is now renewed and broadened to include us all, thanks be to God! Consequently, the Apostle Paul declares that all distinctions (circumcision and uncircumcision, Jew and Gentile, etc.) are nothing, and they count for nothing. All that matters now, he says, is the “new creation” coming into being by the unconditional love and all-encompassing grace of God revealed to the whole world in and through Yeshua (Jesus), the only begotten Son of God.
Like Joshua in the Old Testament who led the ancient Israelites into the land of Canaan through the waters of the Jordan River, our Lord Jesus (Yeshua) is the New Joshua who leads us into the universal promised land of salvation and the Kingdom of God through the waters of Holy Baptism where we are born again from above by his Holy Spirit within us.
Yes, as Christians, our faith is all about the New Inclusive Covenant, heralded and set in motion by the New Universal Joshua (Jesus). And just as God empowered the People of Israel with the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, God has given us the Word and Sacrament of Christ to empower us in Christian faith and life. Just as God’s Shekinah Presence (Glorious Presence) mysteriously and uniquely dwelled between the wings of the cherubim on the Ark, so also God’s Holy Shekinah Presence is uniquely and powerfully made available to us and for us through the Sacrament of Holy Communion so that we may abide in the faith, hope and love of our Lord and Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus).
Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will return! Almighty God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — bless us (the members of the expanded “Israel of God”) now and forever! Amen!