I like to think I’m a pastor that manages to keep abreast of the most important trends and statistics for ministry. Maybe you try to do the same. One of the things we sometimes run across when we do that is the point some folks make that the language of the church is too “bloody.” Here’s a sampling of a few hymns from our hymnal: “Believing, we rejoice, to see the curse remove, we bless the Lamb with cheerful voice and sing His bleeding love” (Not All the Blood of Beasts). Or this: “Lift we, then, our voices, swell the mighty flood; Louder still and louder, Praise the precious blood” (Glory Be to Jesus). There is a lot of blood talk in the church, especially in the current season of Lent. Perhaps we find even more of it as we approach the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) and Good Friday. The church’s critics are right, up to a point. Unlike Palestinian Jews of Jesus’ day, the average American has had no direct (or semi-direct) experience of animal sacrifice. No one should assume that we all will know what “being washed in the blood of Jesus,” signifies, just because we either talk or sing about it. Not all will hear in our words the same things that we hear.
But. Before we sanitize the cross of the crucified Lord Jesus, let’s admit up front that we are hardly immune from blood and gore. Our gaming and entertainment choices feature more of the stuff than we might care to acknowledge. And even in 2017 blood still courses through the human body, carrying the essence of physical life. Blood remains a powerful symbol…the shedding of innocent blood still an event evoking moral outrage. And here’s the thing: You can’t read the account of Jesus’ death in Matthew’s Gospel without encountering blood all over. First there is the guilt (or lack of guilt) of people connected to the shedding of Jesus’ blood: Judas, who recognizes he sinned “by betraying innocent blood” (v. 4); Pilate, who literally washes his hands of the whole business with the unconvincing line, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (v. 24); the crowds who shout for Jesus’ death with the words “His blood be on us and on our children!” (v. 25). And then there are all the obvious places…never explicit, but always implicit…where the blood of Jesus is found: first at his scourging, then at his mocking, and finally at his crucifixion. You can’t avoid the blood. It’s there.
The blood of Jesus is important. Though we might not have betrayed Jesus as Judas did, like him we are “guilty” of Jesus’ blood: it was Judas’s sins and ours that put Jesus on the cross. But Jesus’ death is so significant…it changed the course of history so completely…that it wrings a double entendre out of the self-incriminating words of the crowd “His blood be on us…” Like them, we are both guilty of Jesus’ blood…and saved by it! Let’s make this the time of year we unapologetically give thanks for the blood of Jesus! By it our sins have been paid for and our salvation has been won. Thank God that Jesus’ blood IS on us! It is the blood of Christ, “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” that we have been set free (1 Peter 1:18–19).