In the first reading of this second Sunday of Lent, the Church looks at the first covenant God established with Abram. A few years before that event, Abram had left his town, Ur, at the age of 75, together with his wife Sarai, being childless and having nowhere to go.
For years they walked on the strength of the promise God had made to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.”
But at a certain point in their journey, Abram needs a sign from God that he will fulfill his promise and give them a son and a land in which to settle and be buried. This is when today’s first reading begins. God gives Abram a sign, and more than that, God makes with him a covenant.
Scholars have been debating the meaning of these Old Testament covenants for much longer than anyone can remember, and the debate is still open. However, most of them would now agree that covenants are liturgical rites performed to unite two parties in a familial relationship. In our times, a wedding would be the closest rite we have to these Old Testament covenants.
It was common at that time to express the new duties and obligations in the form of self-curse by splitting animals in half and then walking between the two parts. It was as if the parties were saying: “May I be slain like these animals if I break this covenant.”
In the first reading today, God asks Abram to split some animals in half, as was the custom, and prepare them for the ritual. But something unexpected happens. Abram would not pass through the animals, only God would do it, to indicate that this covenant is the initiative of God and that He alone would take all responsibilities.
Through history, God has established covenants at different times and with different people with the intention of bringing humanity ever closer to himself. The last covenant to be made was Christ’s. In Him, God was not only expressing his desire to establish an unprecedented relationship with humanity, but he was also making that relationship possible.
Easter is the great celebration of that ultimate covenant that opened the gates of heaven for us. Let us prepare ourselves well during these days, so that we may celebrate it eagerly and meaningfully.