A sermon preached at Christ Church, New Haven on Good Friday 2012
Today’s story is awash in blood. We hear the story of Jesus’s five wounds. From his head, from his hands, from his feet, from his brow came blood. Poured out, onto the ground, and forever staining the cross. We are surrounded, in this place, by images of the Passion. The rood screen, the stations, the altar, the windows – all tell the story of how this innocent blood was shed.
How do we talk about blood? A technical definition of blood goes something like this:
“Blood is a bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen and transports waste products away.”
Can we ever be comfortable with blood? Can we see the very stuff that gives life shed – especially when it is innocent blood – without a deep ache in our stomach? I can barely stomach getting shots or having my blood drawn at the doctor. Yet we have this story – these hours of spear, nails, and thorns which we come together to mark.
As a people – why do we do this? Who are we that we gather to tell a story of blood and agony? Why do we walk the stations of the Cross? Why do we venerate the cross? Why do we drink of that cup?
Because this blood is life. It is who we are. It is us.
Perhaps that technical definition of blood offers something more for us to consider?
Blood delivers to us that which is necessary. It gives us life and animates our bodies.
This blood carries with it the hope of life eternal – that sure and certain promise that as Christ was wounded we were healed. As Christ’s own body was given our own self was set free from the bondage of sin and death. This blood animates our souls.
That blood carried in it life and immortality. It was shed in a way that makes it clear that no matter our sins or offenses – no matter the gravity of our sins – we have been infused with the very blood of new and unending life.
Innocent blood was shed by sinful human hands and yet we hear “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We hear “Today, you will be with me in Heaven.” We hear “Truly, this man is the Son of God.”
As innocent blood was spilled our guilt was washed away and we were carried out of sin into righteousness and out of death into life.
Blood not only delivers that which is vital – it carries away that which pollutes. It carries off waste like carbon dioxide. As we breathe in fresh air our blood carries it around our body and makes us alive.
This blood enables us to breathe deeply of the Holy Spirit, to take in the breath of eternity, and to be made alive in Christ Jesus. Receiving this Blood has made us one body in him, filled with the Spirit of life as that same blood carries away our sins.
Blood is classified by type. Blood can be transfused. Bloodlines carry our heritage and traits from on generation to the next. We talk of blood money and blood debts. We have blood brothers and sisters. We share blood oaths.
Blood is life. It is who we are. It is us.
And by this blood we are one people. By this blood the debt is paid. By this blood we are bought. By this blood we are brothers and sisters. By this blood we are bound in a new covenant.
By this blood who know who we are.
Last night, at the end of the Maundy Thursday mass, we heard from the Gospel of Mark. At the end of the reading and the end of the liturgy the last line we heard was “And they all forsook him, and fled.”
“And they all forsook him and fled.”
They knew what was coming. Deep down, they all knew that this meant blood. Jesus’s would be shed. Would theirs too? How could they look into the eyes of the accusers and offer themselves up too? So they forsook him and fled.
Yet Jesus does not curse them for villains. Nor tell them they are cast out. He does not revile them for their treachery. He knows their fear. He knows that their dreams, the hopes, their lives are being undone before them. So they ran. This was no act of rank villainy or cowardice – it was so very human.
Yet those who ran too were ransomed by blood. They too were given new life as Jesus said “Father, forgive them.” The Church was built on the rock that thrice denied Our Lord.
Whether we run and hide. Whether we stand and fight. Whether we turn our eyes and shake our heads. We weak mortals are given immortality in the blood and we are forgiven.
Jesus’s blood has bound us together – all of us baptized into that life and death – in him all things are held together.
Yet, how do we live our lives in such a way as to live into that eternal promise? We are now called to make this unity a reality in the world around us.
All of our ministry and labor is “under the blood.” As the Church – the Body – we are called to strive for the world around us – for that blood was shed for it. To bring all we know, love, and hold dear into the same family. As the Cross is lifted up for all to be drawn to Christ, we are now part of that labor of reconciliation and love.
In the Church, we hear much of reconciliation. It is a term that is being used with greater and greater frequency. Our Catechism says the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Restore all people to unity in Christ. To make us all one blood.
Reconciliation is more than repairing wrongdoing. Though it is that. It is more than apology, reparation, renewal, or restoration – though it may be all of those. Reconciliation is the restoration of all things in the blood of Christ as we see and know that all of the human family is brought together in that blood shed for all.
Our entirety is washed in the blood of Christ. Every aspect of our lives is knit to the Holy One by that blood and we are provided a new way to know the world around us. Because the world is beloved a and washed, every aspect of that world be seen as of the blood – which must also mean in light of the cross.
Our own heart is now washed in that blood. So treat yourself and those around you with compassion.
Our own hands are now washed in his blood. So extend them with care and tenderness.
Our own brow is marked with blood – so think on Him often.
Our own feet have stood where the blood poured out. So walk the path he calls you to.
Our own souls are washed in blood – so offer praise and adoration with your whole being.
The cross can have no private meaning though. It is not ours alone. The cross is the sign that marks all of Creation as restored by God’s own redeeming love. We must, if we are to be serious about the work of reconciliation, see the cross still standing, still stained by blood, and still by its shadow illumining all around us. All of creation is made new in that blood – Earth, and stars, and sky and ocean, by that flood from stain are freed.
The blood of Christ at once lays us low and exalts as it annihilates our ego and pride even as we glory in the grace of Christ. We are laid low for we come to know that pain of human sin. Yet are are lifted up and exalted for we are given a new being, a new Body, in that blood.
When we know ourselves as born of that blood and the essence of everything and everyone around us is viewed in light of the cross, they take on inviolability. No longer can we allow one more innocent to be paraded before us. No longer can we forsake any that suffer. For we are now of the blood. We are of the cross and the cross marks all about us.
We are changed – made new as a people not because we fear hell nor because we labor to attain heaven but because we were, we are, so loved and an only Son was given. As he commended his Spirit to the Father, ours and the whole of the human family was commended too. In this moment we are taught how to live and how to die – we hear Jesus call out through pain and perplexity – “Father, thy will be done.”
We too, by that blood, now may call out “Father, thy will be done.” For that life was lived with this one purpose – that we might be drawn nearer to the Father in faith and hope – that we might know ourselves, by blood, as a new family. “Woman, behold thy Son” says Jesus as a new family was born.
We are moved, by the cross, to a place of profound love in which our view of all around us, the whole human family, is suffused with an awareness of their belovedness as heirs of that cross, as commended by the Son, through the blood shed not for our sins alone but for the sins of the whole world.
That cross is not burden alone – it is joy for it is freedom. And Easter is not joy alone – it is burden and yoke. If we are to know the joy of resurrection life, of forgiveness, then we must also accept the burdens of a freed people. We must take responsibility for the work of reconciliation that is all about us.
We who know something of Calvary. We who have walked the path of shame. We who have shouted “crucify” as he pleads “Forgive them.” We who are of the blood know what it is to suffer and we can share that with the world that hurts around us. We, a people of sorrow who are acquainted with grief can tell the story of the triumph of the victim.
We are called into lonely places. We are called into dark nights. We are called into crisis, despair, and long passages into unknown futures. The cross calls us. The blood calls us. We too are marked with the wounds now and we who have walked this path, known this shame, been betrayer and betrayed, born this burden, can carry the suffering through to the other side.
We can preach, share, and make known Resurrection because we have known Crucifixion. We can stare into the darkness for we have beheld the Lamb of God.
Our relationships, our faith, our Hope, our world, and our very being can never be the same for they have been reconciled in blood – for it is finished. It is accomplished – this new family is formed by the Blood.