We have already encountered the biblical theme of the “covenant” on the First Sunday of Lent. The liturgy of this Sunday places before us the renowned “New Covenant” of Jeremiah. The “New Covenant” appears for the first time in the book of Jeremiah. In the New Testament the phrase “New Covenant” appears in Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, and twice in the Letter to the Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15. This short oracle has been justly called “one of the profoundest and most moving passages in the entire Bible.”
The New Covenant will be different from the one which previous generations had broken. It will be written on people’s hearts, not just on stones, like the Ten Commandments. In other words, we will always carry with us the stipulations of the New Covenant with us and it will become part of our being. Two characteristics of the New Covenant are to be noted. First, people need not be encouraged to know God, because all will know him. Secondly, God will forgive the sins of the people in a new and decisive way.
The belief in a new covenant existed among the Essenes of Qumran, but it was the Christian Church that laid real claim to Jeremiah’s promise, establishing the New Covenant finally as its charter of faith. The New Covenant will be more than a renewed Mosaic covenant, such as those formalized in the plains of Moab (Deut 5:2-3; 28:69), at Shechem (Joshua 24), or in Jerusalem at the climax of the Josianic reform (2 Kings 23). It is really a “New” covenant, one that marks a new beginning in divine-human relationship and one which is grounded in a wholly new act of divine grace, i.e., the forgiveness of sins. It is to be noted that, the forgiveness of sins did not undergird the Mosaic covenant, in fact, it played no part at all in the covenant’s understanding. The act of divine grace undergirding the Mosaic covenant was the deliverance from Egypt (Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6).