Giving The Gift of Life. Or What's the Deal with All the Blood in the Bible?
This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Sunday Sept. 10, 2017. The scripture text was Exodus 12:1-14.
Anybody here ever been a blood donor? If you haven’t or can’t do it, I’ll confess that I’ve only done it once, even though I know it’s a good thing, because I have a tendency to...pass out.
If are a person who gives blood, when you’re done, you get juice and a cookie, right? Plus you walk away a little bit of a hero, you get to wear a sticker advertising your hero status, because you gave someone the gift of life. Giving blood is giving the gift of life.
Blood is life, yet we don’t like thinking about blood, except when we have to. Or maybe on Halloween. I’m getting a little squirmy, just having said the word so many times. Deep breath.
I’m bringing it up today even though I’m feeling...um...yucky...about it, because in the passage from Exodus we read, the Israelites are supposed to put blood on the doorposts of their houses. So, this week’s sermon started with a very basic question from me: what is the deal with all the blood in the Bible?
Blood is all over the place. It’s a very bloody book. In the New Testament, in communion, in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka the Old Testament). What’s so special about blood, that we have to hear about it all the time?
Before we get into the answer to this fascinating - or disgusting - question, let’s catch up to where we are in Exodus. If you remember from last week, Exodus is the second book of the Bible. The gist of the story of Exodus is that it’s about the flight of a group of oppressed people out of Egypt to a sacred mountain where they enter into a covenant with the God that rescued them. That God’s name is a mystery - revealed to Moses from a burning bush - but means something like “Being-ness” or the source of all being.
Moses is our main guy in the story, and last week we heard how God gave him the job of going to Pharoah to tell him to let the Israelite people go. Now, Moses and Aaron (Moses’ brother) do just that, and God sends a lot of plagues on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh that letting the Israelites go is the right thing to do. As we get into the Scripture verses from today today, God is preparing Moses and Aaron for the final plague and their flight out of Egypt into the wilderness.
Basically, in Exodus 12:1-14, the people are given instructions to roast and eat a lamb, with unleavened bread (bread that doesn’t rise) and bitter herbs. They mark the blood from the lamb on their sides and tops of their door frames. They are to eat the roasted lamb standing up, dressed to leave quickly. And while they eat, the Lord will go through Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt - but spare the houses marked with blood. And they should remember that day always, how they were spared, for all time.
There’s so much in this passage that is important, but rather than gloss over everything, today we’ll look at only one question, the question we started with: what’s the deal with the blood?
We squirm some at the thought of it, I think, because blood is primordial. It’s primeval goo. Our reaction to it lurks somewhere below the realm of conscious thought. We’re dependent on it for life, it’s supposed to stay in our bodies, and when we see it in the wrong place, it’s almost always bad news.
Speaking of primordial: as far as the Exodus account, according to the Jewish Study Bible, the story about the blood on the doorways might come from an ancient shepherds rite, when shepherds believed that they were endangered by demons who could be warded off by the shepherds remaining inside and applying blood to their doorways. The blood was considered magically protective.
The Israelites may have inherited this ancient ritual from their sheep herding ancestors, long before the Exodus account, and reinterpreted it as a memorial to the exodus (not entirely unlike how Christianity takes the stories Exodus and Passover, and reinterprets those symbols once again).
A deeper truth lurks underneath even the most ancient versions of the story of the blood on the doorposts: the blood is the life (Dt. 12:23). We know that on the most basic level. You can read lots of scriptural and theological analysis on why blood is the life, on how the ancient people believed the blood to be the very essence - the animating source - of life. Or you can read the slogans on your blood donation stickers: Give blood. Give the gift of life.
We give blood. We give birth - but the gift of life - life itself - “being-ness” - the power to exist - is beyond humanity. Life is a creation of God. Life is from God, so blood is from God. Blood in the Bible symbolizes the presence of God in life.
This account from Exodus tells the story of the Passover, when God protects the Israelites from the plague of death in Egypt with the symbol of blood, and sets them free. In the verses, there is a call to remembrance of God’s protection within in the story, a call to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for all time.
Later in the Scriptures, according to Luke, Jesus’ last meal with his disciples was a Passover meal, a meal of remembrance, and during it Jesus calls his disciples to remembrance of him with bread and wine, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” Do this is remembrance of me. We do this: remember the life of Jesus, the presence of God, poured out for us.
Many of the stories in the Bible from the earliest sacrifices in the wilderness to “the cup of the new covenant” tap into the depth of the symbolism beyond words. The call of the Scripture stories about blood - is often a call to remembrance of ancient things: we are called by the Passover stories and by the cup to remember God’s gift of life. God’s protection. God’s forgiveness.
The very existence of blood is a pretty basic thing that we think about it only when we have to, mostly during in emergencies. Those emergencies often remind us of an awesome and humbling truth: blood is life. And life is temporary.
For Christians, the good news of Jesus Christ reminds us that we are included in God’s protection and given God’s forgiveness as a free gift of grace. When we drink the cup during the Lord’s Supper, we remember how precious this gracious gift is. Let us remember always to live in thankfulness to God. May it be so. Amen.