Where's the Blood?
I think I've said it myself, "Crucifixion was essentially a bloodless process." I know that they purposely didn't piece the major artery or vein in the arm as that would've caused the victim to bleed to death quickly, but, I also know that what we see Jesus going through was not at all bloodless.
Where's the blood? It's there when Jesus is being flogged. The Romans used a wooden handle with leather straps tied to it. At the end of the straps pieces of metal or bone were attached. When a person was flogged, the straps would wrap around the body, the bone or metal fragments would bite into flesh and rip back out. Internal organs and skeletal bones were often exposed. To be sure there was blood. Jesus had a crown of thorns which you know the soldiers didn't lightly set on His head. There was blood when they jammed the thorns into Jesus' head. I stuck myself in the finger with a mesquite thorn the other day. I couldn't believe how much I bled. The thorns were in Jesus' head where some of the largest blood vessels in the body are. O yeah, several times they put on and took off a robe after flogging Jesus. Imagine how the material stuck to the bloody back of Jesus. Hear it ripping away from His flesh when they tore it off of Him. See the blood.
Where's the blood? It's on the way to the cross and it's at the cross. True, the Roman executioners were experts at not hitting those main arteries or veins in the hands, but the blood was there. Jesus back, ripped open and still bleeding, was pressed against the wooden pole of the cross. In order to exhale Jesus had to raise His body scrapping it against the rough wood. And Jesus' feet were nailed, blood too dripped from there. After death, when the soldier pierced His side, St. John says that blood "flowed out."
Where's the blood? We can see it at the cross. Even if we can't, Jesus Himself tells us it was there in the Words of Institution. He says that His blood was "shed." "Shed" has the idea of "streaming down," "outpouring," "freely flowing," "overabundance." So the idea of an entire fountain filled with blood pictured in our Lenten hymn is not off the mark. There's lots and lots of blood, but there's getting less and less in our hymns.
The loss of blood in our hymns can be seen by comparing the 1941 hymnal to the 1982 hymnal. In the '82 hymnal there is no more fountain filled with blood. Instead, "There stands a fountain for sin," and we're never told what that fountain is filled with. One of the reasons the LCMS did not change with the other Lutherans to The Lutheran Book of Worship was because of the deliberate toning down in that hymnal of blood theology. However, Lutheran Worship, the '82 hymnal, retains some of these weaknesses.
This same thing happened from the 1917 hymnal to the 1941 hymnal. Only if you're old enough to be my parent have you sung such lines as, "O bleeding Head and wounded." "And all Thy blood, with life divine,/ Revive this weakened heart of mine." "Behold the Savior of mankind/ Nailed to the shameful tree!/ How vast the love that Him inclined/ To bleed and die for thee!" "To Thee, Lord Jesus thanks we give,/ Who diedst for us that we might live/ And through Thy holy, precious blood/ Hast made us righteous before God." And while we have the hymn "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth," we've lost the verse that says, "From soul and body oozing;/ From body 'tis the crimson flood/ Of precious sacrificial blood," and the one that says, "My priceless treasure, Lord, my God,/ Is Thy most holy, precious blood,/ Which flowed from wounds so cruel."
The tendency in our hymnody and theology is to downplay Jesus blood. Do you know why? Because sinful man, like Pilate in our text, wants no part of His blood. It's gruesome to think that the holy, pure God requires blood to satisfy His wrath against sinners no worse than us. O maybe our sins should cause God to fling a lightening bolt or two, maybe have Him rumble the ground a bit, but to cause Him to cut open His Son with whips, thorns, nails and spears, but to cause Jesus to bleed from hands, feet, head, side and back! Surely it can't me my little old sins that caused this?
Terror ought to be rising in you as the fact that your sins caused the blood of Jesus to be shed. Didn't you ever help your dad with a project and do something stupid which caused him to grab the wrench from you and attack the bolt. When the wrench slipped, he hit his hand, and the blood flowed; do you remember the horror you felt at what you had caused? No wonder we sinners tremble at the blood of Jesus. Look at what we caused? "Alas and did my Savior bleed,/ And did my Sovereign die?/ Would He devote that sacred Head/ For such a worm as I?" Only people who are convinced they are worms want any part of the blood of Jesus. Pilate was no worm; he wanted no blood.
Where's the blood? Not on the hands of Pilate and not in Protestant Communion services. They want no part of the Blood of Christ being present in their communion. For them, the Blood of Jesus is confined to Calvary's mournful mountain. The blood of Jesus is back somewhere around 30 A.D. Don't misunderstand; Protestants do believe that the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sins, but they want none of His blood in their Communion cups, on their lips or in their mouths. Even though the Episcopalians retain all the ceremony of the Communion service all but the High Anglicans believe that the Blood of Christ is only present to faith. That means it's not really there but in heaven. Their Book of Common Prayer spells it out. "The natural body and blood of our Savior Christ are in heaven."
You can go to Communion every Sunday at a Protestant altar for the next 50 years and your lips will never touch the blood of Jesus. They'll touch only wine or more likely grape juice. Some Protestants point to John Calvin and say that he did believe the blood, and body too, of Christ were present. Let us set this rumor to rest by quoting from Calvin's "Short Treatise on the Supper, "Hence to wish to establish such a presence, that the body of Christ is enclosed within the sign, or is joined locally to it, is not only a dream, but a damnable error" (in Calvin Theological Treatises, 158).
The reason I'm so strong on this point is that it was Calvin's theology which enabled the ELCA to enter into full communion with 3 Protestant churches. The ELCA has given up the real, bodily presence of Christ in Communion, but it was precisely against this error that our Lutheran fathers wrote the Formula of Concord in 1580. There we say "the true body and blood of Christ are orally eaten and drunk in the bread and wine... They [the Protestants] have only bread and wine." We specifically condemn their teaching, "That the bread and wine are only representations, similes, and symbols of the far-distant body and blood of Christ."
Where's the blood of Jesus? Where the unbelieving, hate filled crowd in our text wanted it. They cried, "Let His blood be on us and on our children." They meant that in a bad way, in an accursed way, but God meant it for good. When Jesus shed His blood, where did that blood fall? On the earth, the ground, the world. As Christ carried the sins of the world, as He was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, so His blood was on the entire world. And His blood works wonders. Romans 5 says we're justified by His Blood. Ephesians 1 says, "We have redemption through His blood," and that we "are brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ." Colossians 1 says God "made peace through the blood of His cross." The peace treaty Jesus made with His blood wasn't just with you or me, but with the whole world for Paul says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
Where's the blood? It was shed on the cross to cover the sins of the world. Where is it today? Wherever Jesus says it is. And He says, "This cup is the New Testament in My Blood." Study the woodcut I had copied on your Lenten devotions. It depicts Jesus crucified. 3 angels are there. They all have chalices. One catches the blood flowing from Jesus' nailed left hand. One catches the blood squirting from His nailed feet. The third angel catches the blood flowing from Jesus' right hand and gushing from His pierced side. What a beautiful artistic depiction of where the blood is today. It's in the chalice of Holy Communion; it's in those individual cups. It's in the cups that I use to bring the sick and shut-in Holy Communion.
But is the blood only in the cups of Holy Communion? Not all of you can commune, are you without that precious Blood? Not at all. St. Peter talks about being sprinkled with it. If you've been baptized the Blood of Jesus has been sprinkled on you. Not only that, but every time I preach or speak the forgiveness of sins, I am painting the blood of Jesus across your sins, across your life. If the blood of a plain lamb could cause the angel of death to pass over the home of an ancient Israelite in Egypt, how much more does the blood of the true Lamb of God defend you, protect you, seal you as God's own?
Where's the Blood of Jesus? It's in the cup, the font, the forgiving Word. What's it there for? In the cup it's there for you to drink, but in all three places it's there for the forgiveness of your many sins. While the Blood of Jesus was shed for the sins of the world, you should make this personal. You should do what a medieval painter did. He painted himself in the scene of the crucifixion. The blood spurting out of Jesus' pierced side is hitting him square in the face.
Now if you don't have sins, if you think you're holy enough because you're not as bad as other people, if you think your efforts to be Christian are good enough, then you won't want to see yourself in the picture. Then blood squirting out of the wounded side of Jesus, then His blood sprinkled on your in Baptism, painted on you in Absolution, and in the cup of Communion for you to drink, will be something you want to avoid. You won't want to befoul the purity you think you have with blood! You will be content to stand before God wreaking of the shameful, lustful, greedy, unbelieving thoughts, words, and deeds you have. But in doing this you will be guilty of the very worst sin according to Hebrews 10:29. You will be guilty of treating as unclean the Blood of Jesus.
However, if you yourself can't stand your own smell, if you yourself are moved to blush or turn away from your own filth, if you know that even all of your goodness is worse than any foul smelling blood soaked cloth, then run to this blood of Jesus. He has left for you a whole fountain brimming with His Blood. He shed it for sinners. He meant it for sinners, so He is not offended that you a sinner want to bath in it, drink it, and have it cover you. The devil wants to convince the Church of Christ either that the Blood of Jesus isn't really present on earth for them to use, or that it's not present here and now for sinners.
Friends, what if you left your loved ones something in a will that they thought themselves too worthless to use? Wouldn't that break your heart? Well, Communion is Jesus' last will and testament. In it He leaves His loved ones His Body and Blood to eat and drink to have their sins forgiven. He too would be brokenhearted if you couldn't bring yourself to make use of it because you thought yourself too sinful. He shed His blood for sinners to use, to rely on, to drink. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek 5 (4-2-03), Lord's Supper I