Easter, Creation and Holiness

Apr 1, 2024 by

By George Weigel, First Things,

What came first: creation, or God’s covenants with the People of Israel and the New Israel, the Church?

The question may seem odd, even silly. Chronologically, it’s obvious that the divine act of creation preceded the divine acts of covenant-making: no creation, no “People” with whom God could enter a covenant relationship. But our sense of time is not God’s. For as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, all that we know as “time” is an eternal present to God.

In Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI explains that God’s covenant relationship with his chosen people in both the Old and New Testaments is not an add-on, a divine afterthought—or, as it’s more often understood, a fix for something that had gone wrong. Rather, Benedict writes, God’s covenantal bond with his people—the Jewish people and the people of the Church—is the very reason why God “created” in the first place:

According to rabbinic theology, the idea of the covenant—the idea of establishing a holy people to be an interlocutor for God in union with him—is prior to the idea of the creation of the world and supplies its inner motive. The cosmos was created, not that there be manifold things in heaven and earth, but that there be space for the “covenant,” for the loving “yes” between God and his human respondent.

Throughout the Lenten itinerary of conversion we have lived for six weeks, the Church has asked us to reflect on God’s thirst for us. Thus, the paradigmatic Lenten Gospel reading of Jesus and the woman at the well on the Third Sunday of Lent points to prayer as a “gift of God” (John 4:10): Prayer is our divinely empowered response to God’s burning desire for our holiness. Other paradigmatic Lenten Sunday Gospels strike a similar note: The cure of the man born blind (who is empowered to see Jesus as the Light of the World [John 9, 5, 38]) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (which follows Martha’s act of faith in John 11:27). God creates or “speaks” the world into being through his “Word” (John 1:3) and redeems the world through the Word incarnate (John 1:14) to share the divine holiness. God yearns, God “thirsts,” for the holiness of the human creatures he has created, so that he might be in covenant relationship with them.

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