Power in the bloodBy Don Steelberg Wichita, Kan.
I grew up with a William Cowper hymn, written in 1772 and no longer in our hymn books, and, as puzzling as this may be, it is still a favorite: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”
Our present sensibilities find blood off-putting, certainly being plunged into it. And yet, blood is a dominant theme in Scripture. The ancients’ earliest perception was that life is in the blood — so Abel’s blood crying out from the ground; Abraham tempted to slaughter Isaac but saved by a ram in the thicket; Moses’ wife Zipporah damning circumcision as a bloody sacrifice to save Moses’ life when God sought to kill him (Ex. 4:24-26); the horrible damnation of Egyptian and Israelite firstborn if blood had not been sprinkled on the lintel of the door post; the long history of sacrificing a lamb, even to the hailing of Jesus as the Lamb of God, God’s demand of a sacrifice as the church developed that metaphor.
So our tender consciences re-write these stories as “the understanding of their times” but not pertaining to our day. Jesus as a sacrifice is much more than giving up candy in Lent, but we’re not having any of the medieval altar pieces’ shrunken cheeks, pierced side and dripping blood. Accepting the sacrament, we do not hear the prayer book’s “the body of Jesus; the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you … drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful”; nor experience some dissonant shock.
It takes living with metaphor. So I could accept blood as I accept Sunday afternoon football as hailing aggression in the way that I would like to hit a competitor but can’t quite admit that. I accept the pornography of war without admitting it is that. But no: For me the metaphor of a fountain of blood is reality; sacrifice is bloody.
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