Soaked in Blood

I remember reading of one denomination that undertook a major revision of its hymnal. Churches revising hymnals is certainly nothing unusual. In fact, if we tell people to take out a hymnal, we have to explain that we mean the old maroon book covered in dust underneath the chair in front of them (we usually just sing “off the wall.”)  But the reason for this particular revision of this particular denominational hymnal was to remove or revise all of those old hymns that seem so fixated on “blood.” You know the hymns—“Nothing But the Blood,” “Power in the Blood,” “Alas! And Did my Savior Bleed,” and “Have You Been to Jesus” (“Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”). Their thinking was that modern sensitivities are too prim and proper to respond or relate to this obsession in these old hymns with blood. Most modern urban people can't relate to “Bringing in the Sheaves,” and neither can they relate to this emphasis on blood.  So we'll just avoid those songs altogether.

Frankly, there are some biblical allusions that I try to avoid. For example, I can’t remember ever preaching on the spiritual significance of the dowry Saul required of David for the hand of his daughter Michal (1 Sam 18:25). And then there’s the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 18 that is pretty gross as well. But as offensive as the topic of blood might be to modern sensitivities, there is simply no way to tell the gospel story without stressing the fact that the whole story is saturated in blood. Patty Kirk puts it this way in her spiritual memoir Amateur Believer--

The problem of Jesus' blood—what Catholics would appropriately call a mystery—is that it means everything. Not merely the blood covering Jesus when he suffered at our hands, but the gorier blood of our uncleanness—our urges and our hatreds, our humanness—that Jesus assumed when he died for us. It is the blood of our sin as well as the blood sprinkled to cleanse us of sin. The blood of the Israelites' sacrifices. The blood they smeared on their doorjambs to protect their firstborn children from death when the Lord passed over Egypt.

The blood we drink in celebrating communion represents the very essence of Jesus' dual identity as God and man. From his earthly beginning, even as a fetus deep in Mary's uterus, nurtured by the nutrients from her blood, Jesus drew life from his own unique blood, blood mysteriously human and divine simultaneously, special blood that made him the living Son of God and also, incomprehensibly, one of us, the Son of Man.

Communion evokes the bitter wine vinegar offered Jesus on the cross and also the wine we will drink with him in heaven. His death and his resurrection to eternal life. The spilled blood of our guilt and the pulsing blood of our hope. Sin. Sacrifice. Celebration. Blood is at the very core of our faith.

If people really are offended by the story of the blood of the cross, then you just might be telling the story correctly. Paul talks about “the offense of the cross” in Galatians 5:11. (That’s the verse before Paul wishes those who insisted that all be circumcised to follow Jewish tradition would just go ahead and castrate themselves; evidently Paul wasn't too concerned with our sensibilities, modern or otherwise).

The gospel is a story that is soaked in blood; you can't tell the gospel without it.  And you can't sing the gospel with the blood either.