I often go down the Musing Trail, starting one place and ending up somewhere unexpected. This trail began with some family history research, passed through a Watch Party, and ended up with thoughts on Covenants. Hope you enjoy today’s meander!
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we talk a lot about covenants: the covenant of baptism and the covenant of eternal marriage, in particular. In the temple we covenant to keep the law of obedience, the law of chastity, the law of sacrifice, and the law of consecration. In our personal lives, we can make and keep our own covenants with our Heavenly Father.
I recently became intrigued with the historical idea of covenants when researching ancestors in Arizona. I came across some newspaper articles about local high society residents hosting “Watch Parties” on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day during the 1920’s in Tucson, Arizona. I had never heard of a Watch Party. After a bit of research, I discovered that they began in the late 1700’s as a religious ceremony still held in some churches, and though motivations appear to have changed, they were basically the New Year’s Eve church services I attended as a young child. For the Tucson folk, their Watch Parties seem to have had more to do with socializing on New Year’s and making fun resolutions for upcoming year than any particular religious celebration.
The history of these events is long and varied. I prefer John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service, a time dedicated to fasting, prayer, singing, recitations of scriptures, and ponderings upon the making and keeping of covenant with God, not only on New Year’s Eve or Day, but also on each full moon. Both John, and his brother Charles, founded Methodism, and both were hymn writers. Here is a list of those found in the current hymnal for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (#200); “Come, Let Us Anew” (#217); “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (#209), “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (#102); “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (#66); “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray” (#118). Some of my other childhood favorites are found in a couple of old red hymnals I rescued being thrown out over the years. My first piano lessons were learning to play some of the hymns found in those old books, and they still move my soul from time to time. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have the opportunity to participate in our own Covenant Renewal Service each Sabbath when we partake of the Sacrament.
I am always intrigued by the religious thoughts and struggles of the people who lived through the Reformation and Protestant Eras, how they reached for the truth, trying to repair the losses of the Great Apostasy, and could not quite grasp the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ until the Restoration began in the early 1800’s, when Joseph Smith was called to do this work by the Savior. I would have loved to sit beside the hearths in their homes or in the pews in the churches listening to their discussions and pondering the doctrines they pondered. I am descended from such thinkers and my ancestors lived in times and places which required them to make life-changing decisions regarding those doctrines. Since that time, the original covenants of Christianity and their deeper meanings, have been restored and we are blessed to have them in their fulness in our day. But just knowing them is not enough. We must make sure we fully understand their meaning and incorporate the concept of Covenant Living into our daily lives.
This year (2022) we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have been counselled to be more diligent covenant-keepers by both stake and ward leaders. This caught my attention as I have always been fascinated by the idea of temples and covenants. As a child, raised mostly in the Free Methodist Church, with a smattering of Catholicism, Judaism, and other protestant sects thrown in, and heavily schooled in the Bible, I was taught the covenants entered into by biblical personalities, but I often felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle.
I love the story of Hannah in the Old Testament. She, her husband, and his first wife, were a covenant-keeping, temple-attending polygamist family, something you certainly not sanctioned today. Hannah had no children and the first wife liked to remind her of that rather often and rather mockingly. Hannah would pray for a child with such fervor during these visits that Eli, the High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem at that time, once accused her of being drunk. Eli’s calling would be similar to that of a Temple President in our day, but he would have been a High Priest of the Aaronic Priesthood, unlike today’s temple presidents, who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. Nevertheless, Eli, Hannah, and today’s temple attendees around the world are all covenant-makers and covenant-keepers.
Hannah’s persistence resulted in the birth of her son, Samuel, whom she dedicated to the Lord at a young age, raising him in light and truth before giving him to Eli, where he was further taught in the ways of the Lord in the temple, becoming one of the most valiant prophets in the history of ancient Israel. She is a great example to all covenant women today. Her example teaches us to exercise faith in Heavenly Father, to act upon that faith, to keep our covenants, to allow ourselves to be guided by the still, small voice, and to take the deeper spiritual leap from obedience to consecration, even when it’s hard. A good lesson, which I personally need to continually ponder and enact in my own life.
Commitment to Covenant Living and making changes can be scary and difficult, but it is part of becoming a “peculiar people”, as Peter said in I Peter 2: 9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Truly we are becoming peculiar in the eyes of the world as we keep sacred covenants. These covenants give us a firm foundation for a spirit-filled life in spite of the chaos around us.
Remember these words,
- “John Wesley,” by the English artist George Romney, oil on canvas. 29 1/2 in. x 24 3/4 in. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
- “Hannah Presents Samuel to Eli” by Robert T. Barrett, cornerstoneart.com
- “Draper Temple” by Mandy Jane Williams, mandyjanewilliamsart.com