The Blood of Christ
April 30, 2017
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana
Text: 1 Peter 1:17-21
There is a whole genre of old hymns we rarely sing anymore. I call them the blood hymns. Here’s one of them, sung by the Gaithers with Vestal Goodman.
A fountain filled with blood? Rivers of red, goopy stuff making us white as snow? I call these the Blood Hymns – mostly written during the camp meetings and revivals that periodically burned across the American frontier. Most of these never made it into the Presbyterian hymnals, and of those that did, most disappeared after the 1955 edition. In a time when we buy our meat wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays and medical procedures take place in the sanitized, off limits environs of hospital operating rooms, these hymns, and the imagery they contain seem gross.
Yet here, in Peter’s letter to the dispersed churches, we find that very same imagery:
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
We are ransomed by the blood of Christ – the blood sung about in the hymns, the blood we receive at the communion table, the blood shed in the name of what the theologians call atonement…
Atonement – the act of God taking the consequence of our sin upon the divine self so that we might live lives no longer controlled by our sin and the sin of the world.
But why the blood? Why can’t this atonement thing be all nice, clean and sterile? Why does it have to be so gross and blicky?
Some say there must be blood because God demands it. According to this view of the atonement, first laid out around 900 years ago by a theologian in medieval England named Anselm, humanity has so insulted God, so hurt God, so infuriated God that only human blood can satisfy his wrath and calm his anger. According to Anselm, only when human blood has been shed can God find it in his heart to love us.
Yet scripture describes God as incredibly patient, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Scripture also condemns the very common practice of human sacrifice. Furthermore, the early Christians experienced the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s preexisting love toward humanity, not its beginning. God didn’t need Jesus to die. We needed Jesus to die.
Jesus’ blood is God’s blood is our blood – the blood that flows each and every day because of the evil humanity unleashes upon itself. By taking on the burden of the cross, God in Christ experiences the full agony of the evil humanity unleashes upon itself. By bleeding divine blood, God in Christ experiences human pain alongside a broken humanity. Only by fully immersing himself in the consequences of human sin can God reconcile himself to us.
By coming alongside us in our loneliness, alienation and guilt, God in Christ enables them to be overcome. “In the cross, God says to us, ‘Yes, it is true. You have hurt and offended me. But I still love you. Therefore I will make your guilt and the consequences that guilt unleashes, my own. I will suffer with you. I will bleed with you – for you – to make things right between us.’”
As the hymn says:
Oh! precious is that flow that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus