Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Blood (John 6 - Part 4)

Spreading Blood on the Doorposts
Readings for Sunday, August 16/ 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Have y’all noticed how many of my homilies begin with ‘when I was in seminary’? It was a very formative time! Anywho…

When I was in seminary J we had an interesting outing one day as we drew near to our ordination as priests. We went to one of the funeral homes in New Orleans and they showed us the rooms where they prepared bodies and also the crematory where they would do the cremations. It was really fascinating to see the ‘behind the scene’ view but what intrigued me most was that as we were going around they showed us one special room and told us that it was specifically for the Jewish community because they had certain ways that they would wash and care for the body of the individual, particularly in the preservation of the blood, as opposed to it simply being consumed as would that of other individuals. I didn’t expect it but it made perfect sense because, for the Jewish people, the blood is of great importance. Do you remember the scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ when the Lord had just been scourged? Recall how Our Lady went out with a cloth and began to soak up all the blood on the ground and to clean the area. It’s because of the importance of blood.

Blood is of such importance that we go all the way into the 4th chapter of Genesis before we hear about it for the first time. Here it is the blood of Abel that cries out from the ground after Cain had slain him. Interesting that it’s not the flesh, not the body; it’s the blood. The second time ‘blood’ is spoken of is in the following verse when Cain is told that he has Abel’s blood on his hands. And the third time comes in chapter 9 of Genesis in the story of Noah. As Noah proceed from the Ark after the flood, the Lord says to him: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Blood is life.

The prohibition of eating flesh with blood meat obviously that there were not rare steaks in the Old Testament and this ultimately comes down to the reality that to consume the blood of a creature was to have it’s life in you and thus to be joined with it.

We see the use of blood all throughout the Old Testament in the lives and worship of the Jewish people. The sacrifices of bulls, goats, birds, and the like were all vicarious sacrifices. They were essentially saying that on account of my sins I deserve to die, but this animal is able to die in my place, to pay its life rather than mine. We see this in the use of blood over the doorways at Passover to save people from death and to guarantee life. This idea was brought in as well in the worship in the tabernacle and later in the Temple. At different times that altar, horns of the altar, the people, and the sanctuary were sprinkled with blood, as sign of being cleansed from sin by the life of an animal being poured out. Too, we can see that the Mercy Seat – the dwelling place of God in the Holy of Holies – was sprinkled each year on the Day of Atonement. First-hand accounts from the time of Jesus recount how on the days in preparation for Passover nearly 250,000 lambs were slain to fulfill the command of God to eat of the lamb. So much blood was shed that they say the priests in the sanctuary waded through it up almost to their knees and they had drains in the floor for it to pour out and flow down the mountainside – a river of blood pouring from the side of the Temple and joined at the bottom to a river of fresh water, the blood and water flowing side by side as they merged. You can see the imagery tied to the even of the Cross.

So we can see that blood ultimately comes to have four emphases: it saved or protected people as in the Passover, it washes away sin and guilt by the vicarious gift of the animal, it joined the person to the creature if the blood was consumed, and the consumption of the blood gave the life of that creature to the one partaking of the blood.

All of this is the background that colored Jewish life each day and all throughout the year. They always had to look at their meats to discern ‘does it have any blood in it?’ Always the search for blood. And now we get into the Gospel.

Last week we left of with, and this week we begin with, the Lord telling the people “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This strange saying confuses his hearers and they all begin to wonder to themselves and to speak aloud their confusion: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus, recognizing their confusion, responds and tell them that it was all symbolic, that it was just an analogy, that He didn’t mean it literally. Right? No. What’s interesting is that Jesus knows the confusion in the hearts and minds of the crowd before Him and has the opportunity to tell everyone that the bread He was talking about was just a spiritual reality, a symbolic joining of ourselves to Himself, an analogy of faith. But He does the exact opposite – He intensifies His words.

Precious Blood of the Child Jesus
“Amen, amen, I say to you,” the double amen emphasizing that what follows was of great importance, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

Drink His Blood!? Four times in a row He says to drink His Blood?! I’d imagine one of two scenarios happened at this point: either you could have heard a pin drop with the shocked silence of the crowd or a great uproar of blasphemy charges would have been hurled at the Lord. Either way the reasoning is the same. God, from the days of Noah, prohibited the consumption of blood in the animals and yet here this Jesus, the so-called Son of God, is saying that they were not only to drink His blood but indeed they must in order to have life! Does He realize what He’s saying? The blood has power to wash away sin and guilt, to preserve those on whom it rests from the angel of death and to bring life, it joins one to the creatures whose blood was shed and gives the life of that creature to the one who consumed it! And that is exactly the point.  

It is right not to consume the blood of an animal that would lower one’s dignity, but with the entrance into history of the God-Man Jesus Christ, the consumption of His Blood does not lower us but raises us up to a higher state. It gives us eternal life, where once only temporal life was attainable. It saves us from sin and joins us to Christ – He remains in us and we in Him. It’s all in the power of the Blood of Jesus and it is that same blood, that true drink, which we have the joy of being able to receive each time we come to Mass.

So I conclude this week with the question for reflection: How do we reverence the Eucharist?

If the Lord’s Body and Blood are true food and true drink which we receive here, how do we show that? What about our spirit, body and thoughts here at Mass shows our reverence and love for the Eucharist? What in our lives outside of these walls continues to speak to us and to others and He is here? How do we reverence this gift of His life-giving Blood?