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.
–A prayer from the Wesley Covenant Service
From top songs of the year to most important newsmakers or influential citizens to efforts at identifying the year’s best athletes, recording artists, or actors, it is virtually impossible to avoid lists and discussions attempting to assess and quantify the past year. Equally, once the New Year has begun newscasts and newspapers, sermons and state governments not only review the past year but also imagine the possibilities for the year now underway. Often, these imagined possibilities include a cataloging of resolutions.
Among the countless other promises, we pledge to lose weight, to save more, to spend more time with our families, to volunteer, to finish those project perpetually left undone. Whatever the items crowding our personal and corporate “to do” lists, the start of a new year seems an appropriate time to construct such hopeful catalogues. Much like us, John Wesley was no different.
However, more than generally assessing what we did last year and what we must do in the year begun, Wesley was specifically interested in encouraging the members of his Methodist societies to identify those intentional actions done in the previous year that moved his people toward perfection—i.e., toward being and living like God would love—and in fostering an environment where members would find such a pursuit of perfection successful in the new year. One means Wesley contrived to facilitate this pursuit was the Covenant Service.
This idea of Covenant was basic to Wesley’s understanding of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other. His original Covenant Prayer involved taking Christ as “my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death.” Wesley recognized that people needed not simply to accept but also to grow in relationship with God. He therefore emphasized that God’s grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love. Importantly, the Covenant is not a contract in which God and human beings agree to provide particular goods and services for each other. It is not something that we have to do to create a relationship with God. God has freely and graciously already made it possible. Rather, the Covenant is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship and then seek to sustain it.
Since, covenant is about connecting and choosing intentional acts that maintain that connection, the Covenant Service is recognition that God regularly chooses us. In light of this recognition, it is no accident that Wesley referred to the societies as the “Connexion.” The Connexion served as a material embodiment of our intended destiny to share life with God, each other, and all of creation.
This week, for Young Harris College, the need to remind us of our shared life and to affirm that shared life could not be greater. Not only is it a new year, but the very fabric of our community feels strained as we mourn the death of one of our own. Antonio Burke’s death last week makes the bond that holds us together appear to be unraveling, separating us from him and possibly even each other. Attempting to deal with his death, we might be inclined to try to manage solely in the solitude of our own hearts, struggling with questions, doubts, anger, and confusion. The timeliness of the Covenant Service serves as a counterweight to the inclination to retreat from community into ourselves when such tragedy strikes. Created to share life with each other, that shared life must be relied upon at this very moment. And, despite what might appear evidence to the contrary, death’s separating energy is not the ultimate force around us. Rather, the bonding power of God—so the faith reminds us—resists even the power of death, holding us to God, to each other, and to Antonio.
We will hold two services in the chapel this week, a memorial service for Antonio and a Covenant Service. The date for the memorial service has not been set but should be finalized by the end of the day. We will notify you once it is set. The date for the Covenant Service is Wednesday at 7pm. Together, these services will not only affirm life but the potency and import of life together. Seek a friend; pray for Antonio’s family, his friends, and his teammates; and be reminded that life together with God and each other defines who we are and how we must live in the best of times and the most difficult.
Peace, much peace.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 8: 35, 38-39