What's with all the blood?
Christians seem to always be talking about blood. Especially during Lent. We keep talking about the death of Jesus. For people not familiar with Christianity, and increasingly, people are not familiar with it. In fact, a recent anecdote I heard about the death of Christendom, involved an elementary student asking her teacher who the man on the cross was? She didn’t get indoctrinated. Christianity is losing its cultural value; in Europe, it seems like it’s long-gone. In the United States, especially in the Northeast (and Northwest), it is also dying.
People are wondering more and more about the tenets of Christianity because they aren’t being delivered through popular culture any longer. So the notion of a Palestinian dude being pinned to a cross to save humanity. Well, that just doesn’t make any sense to many people in 2015.
So, let’s start unpacking it.
The notion of sacrifice which is at the root of the Christ’s death is an old idea and not novel to Christianity.
Most of the time, animals and humans, throughout history, are satisfied to appease a god or a spirit. Sometimes sacrifices were performed in order to manipulate nature, or cause a greater harvest to come. To a postmodern person, sacrificing anything is really weird.
I mean, we still see some “sacrificial” images in the modern culture. I think the military still uses the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good in its propaganda. That is a little different than a straightforward sacrifice because it implies a mission that ends in sacrifice, and not value in sacrifice alone. But you can still see how powerful the image is.
For Christians who read the Bible, the Jewish sacrifice is probably the most known and in fact images from the Old Testament are often what color how we think about Jesus’ crucifixion. Rembrandt’s depiction of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac is a familiar image. The ram that God provided to take place of Isaac is a restorative and hopeful image of a loving, providing God who is faithful to the faithful. It’s a mutual relationship.
The image of Jesus being the lamb that took our place is also a very common one, often drawn from the New Testament. Like when Peter writes that we were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ—like a lamb’s. Paul tells the Corinthians we are made new in Christ’s sacrifice, our lamb. John the Baptist calls him the Lamb of God, which would clearly have meaning to his Jewish audience. That’s an important point to note, the image of the sacrificial lamb had cultural meaning to its audience, and clearly in 2015 in Philadelphia, it doesn’t carry the same meaning at all. But we still use it. Christians love doing this and we hear it in our songs all the time. It’s kind of bizarre, but we always seem to be singing about the blood of Jesus that washes us clean, lambs that are worthy to be slain. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino movie sometimes. If we aren’t conscious of how weird that can be, we might very well alienate the average person walking up Broad St.
These days people don’t even want to see their own blood and they rarely interact with it. We’ve become immune to the sight of blood. Some people even become queasy when they see it, even if it’s their own. Blood is associated with death. Vampires sucking blood kind of gave us that association. The AIDS pandemic in Africa makes many of us fearful of becoming in contact with someone’s blood. The historic practice of bloodletting was severely criticized and debunked. The idea of blood leading to restoration and life seems so far from the truth.
But for starters, rather than associating blood with death, what if we thought about it as a rejuvenating substance? In fact, we all need blood and healthy blood to survive. If we lose too much, we lose consciousness or even die. Moreover, as we share blood, we are spreading love. I suppose you could say there is enough blood to go around. It is a self-rejuvenating substance and we all need it.
One startling image I recently encountered on a NPR interview involved the new blood giving new life to an old rat. This isn’t the most pleasant image, but an older rat was stitched at the elbow with younger rat. After a few weeks the two creatures started acting like one and the younger rat’s blood literally gave new life to the older rat who began to act and think in new ways. Amazingly, the new blood changed the old rat.
That’s a way we can see the blood of Christ. It infuses us. And we become new! Paul tells the Galatians that he has been crucified with Christ, that he no longer lives, but Christ lives in us. It’s like we are stitched to Christ and he to us. Now Jesus influences us and changes us.
Moreover, as the Body of Christ and the church is infused with new blood, we change too. Sometimes the community gets too focused on itself and its problems, like a body struggling to survive. Infusing that community with new blood, young blood, next generation blood, is good for its revitalization.
So let’s consider a new friend as new blood to us, a new way to revitalize us. Let’s think of Jesus’ blood as binding us together, redeeming us, and changing us. I think everyone feels better when we are inclusive.