Power, life, and love in the blood

I’m going to talk about blood. If you’re squeamish, you might look for a post about kittens and puppies.

After working in our yard, I often return to the house with my arms covered in bleeding scratches and punctures. The desert is alive with thorns, many of them cleverly barbed and remarkably sharp. They grip and rip, and my blood trickles red from my mortal combat with acacias and mesquites. Thinning desert vegetation is war.

My mom never got over my first injury. I was 4. I’d been outside playing with my friends, unsupervised. We didn’t call it free-range parenting back then, it was just normal American child-rearing.

Red blood cells

Anyway, I was running up the brick steps to my house and I tripped, landing chin-first on the rough edge of one of the steps. I’m sure I cried. I definitely bled. Mom rushed me to the nearby doctor’s office and they stitched me up. The scar was with me for many years.

Mom was mortified, of course, and when I became the father of two very active children, I too learned what it was like to bandage up a crying and bleeding child. It’s a rite of parenthood.

When I’m cut, I bleed scarlet—and that’s a good thing. Our lungs are constantly doing heroic work infusing oxygen into hemoglobin. It’s a marvelous process, the way air provides the fuel for cellular life. Red blood can be disturbing, but it’s also a way to see vividly that our bodies are alive and thriving.

Blood is life. And ironically, that life-giving, life-sustaining blood is what God choose as the disinfectant that cleanses us of sin. The blood of a dying ram took away Abraham’s sin. The blood of the crucified Christ made us holy.

C.S. Lewis makes an interesting point about this grand act of forgiveness Christ made on the cross:

“[Jesus] told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.” —C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

By what right does Jesus forgive that jerk who just shot me the bird in traffic? I can see why he would forgive me, good-hearted person that I am. But you…?!?

Back to the blood, I admit that I’ve never understood the connection between the shedding of blood and purification for sin, yet this was God’s instruction to Israel. Remediation demanded the blood of an innocent animal. Confession and repentance is inadequate on its own; a blood price had to be paid to absolve us of guilt.

Perhaps it’s because there is no more precious and costly substance than blood. Blood is more precious than gold or any gemstone. Why? Because once spilled, the life force it so efficiently sustained will not survive. Pull a gold nugget from the earth and the earth is unharmed. Keep digging and you’ll surely find even more. Drain the blood from a lamb, and whatever it was that gave it life and beingness disappears forever.

The blood of absolution is a mystery. God’s unmerited and generous forgiveness and mercy is an even greater mystery. Why should he love us so? Why should he care that we are stumbling around in the dark? Why should he care about our fights and insults and prejudices and jealousies? Why should he care that we so rarely treat each other with love and compassion and kindness and mercy?

I don’t get it, but because he loves us, because Jesus was nailed to the cross and shed his blood for us, we have the opportunity to discover God’s version of love and to learn to live out God’s version of love. We have been given the chance to become Jesus’ blood brothers and sisters. It’s a remarkable mystery.

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