April 21, 2011 A+D
St. John 13:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the same night in which He was betrayed, that is, the night He was sold as a slave, handed over with a kiss, deserted by Judas and failed by Peter, James, and John, that night, He washed and fed His disciples. On the same night in which He was betrayed, knowing full well what was coming, who was betraying Him, that they would be scattered by their desire for self-preservation, He might have seen after His own affairs, even men on death row are asked what they want for their last meal, but He did not: He looked after them. On the same night in which He was betrayed, He looked after them, and He looked after us. He established a New Passover, a New Testament, one that wipes away the stains of the old and stops, once for all, the flow of blood.
The Old Passover was written in blood. The lamb was slain in place of the first born. Its flesh was consumed. Its blood was smeared onto the doorposts and the angel of death passed over. Someone had already died there, in that house. The payment had been made so the angel went on his way and the faithful Israelites were spared from the plague that would finally break Pharaoh’s will, until Pharaoh second-guessed himself and went to a watery death.
The Passover was more than just the angel of death passing over. It was the whole series of plagues, of God’s finger in Egypt demonstrating who is the living God and who isn’t. It was learning to trust not in princes who forget Joseph and being rescued from slavery, the coming through the Red Sea on dry ground, the reception of the Law at Sinai, again at the finger of God, and the promise that the Lord would be their God. The Passover was the providence of bread and quail in the desert and water from a rock. It was the promise of a prophet to come like Moses and the entrance into the promised land under Joshua. All of it was sealed, confirmed, and instituted with blood. The codified Law writ by the finger of God at Sinai, even as the plagues, wanted blood on everything. For without blood there is no remission.
Thus the author to the Hebrews: “not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”
So then the new, eternal covenant, or testament, was also inaugurated with Blood. This is the Blood that God commanded of His Son for you. It is the Blood that was shed at circumcision, in the Praetorium at lash and thorn, and at Golgotha by the nails and cross, until at last it came gushing out at the tip of the centurion’s spear and the Church was born.
That is the Blood of the New Testament: the Blood of Jesus Christ crucified and raised. This is no metaphor. It is not like Jesus died, but He actually died. It is not simply as though He shed His Blood. His Blood was actually poured out onto the God’s good acre, into the sewers of Jerusalem and down to Gehenna. This is not like His Blood, reminiscent of His Blood, something that is similar to Blood but really something else. It is the Blood that was shed, the Blood of the New Testament and it inaugurates, establishes, institutes, and gives a new relationship with God. It doesn’t simply reestablish the old position of Adam in the garden. It is more. It supplants the old Law, creation’s original charter, and elevates humanity to the family of God. For God is one of us and sits at the right hand as a Man. And, you, by grace, call God “Father.”
But through Moses God has said: “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore . . . you shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 7:14).
You shall not eat the blood of any creature for the life of the creature is in it. Amen. And here we hear the passage fulfilled: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.” The life of the creature is in its blood. Unless God’s life is put in you, you have no life. God’s life in His Blood. So that we would live, He gives us His Blood. The Scriptures are one.
This is the central hope and confidence of our faith: the risen Christ is present for us in the Holy Communion. Blood was once forbidden by God because life abides in it. But now God has given us His Life in His Blood and all blood is sanctified. If the blood of bulls and goats sprinkled on the people cleansed them, how much more will the Blood of God, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish, purify our hearts by being poured down our throats? He pours His Life into us! He gives Himself as our food in order to cleanse us of our sins and join us to the Holy Family.
St. John could baptize alongside the Temple, because Baptism did not undo the old covenant, the Law from Sinai. But the Holy Communion does. Christ’s Blood shed for us in this Holy Supper stops the flow of blood in the Temple. You can’t have both. You can’t have the blood of bulls and goats alongside the Blood of Christ. Now no more lambs, doves, or bullocks are to die for the sins of men. No more is blood prohibited. Because Christ has died for our sins and is risen again in order to give us His Blood.
Indeed, we have been cut off. We have been cut off from the old covenant and given a new covenant. Circumcision was forever, but has now been perfected. The Law and the Passover were forever, but are now perfected and complete. We are cut off from the Jews as the Jews were cut off from the Gentiles. We are neither. We are the New Israel of the New Covenant for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. But we have a shedding, not simply at the cross, but an on-going giving. This Cup is the New Testament in my Blood which is shed, that is, is being shed, or being poured out, for you. We have the shed Blood, the Life of God, poured out on us and so we have God’s own life and forgiveness.
Being thus fortified, forgiven, encouraged, and strengthened, knowing full well that Jesus Christ is risen and lives, let us go forward to celebrate and contemplate the shedding of His Holy Blood on the morrow, with sorrow, to be sure, mourning for our sins and our own complicity in this terrible act of injustice, remembering always that this was the night on which He was betrayed, but also eager for the gift, for the union, for the love of God that welcomes us back to paradise.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.