A BLOODY EXCHANGE
Only know for certain that if you put me to death you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and its inhabitants. For in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears. Jeremiah 26:15
There are two versions of the Christian faith, the tidy one and the bloody one.
We like the tidy one best because it is friendly, inoffensive and it makes us feel good. It rarely talks about sin, but if it does it only takes note of social ones, never personal ones. Under its rubrics people are redeemed not by the blood of Christ poured out as the eternal sacrifice for sin, but by having Positive Spiritual Sentiments. The goal of this religion is to make people nice, and its fondest hope is that all men could just learn to get along. But neither Jeremiah, St. Paul nor the Lord Himself would fare very well under this regime.
There is also the bloody version of the Christian religion but it’s one we don’t like very well. It has nothing to do with the religious wars that Christo-phobes obsess about, but with the suffering and death of Jesus. It offends our sensibilities and is so frightening that if it were possible, we would banish it from the face of the earth; but then we would be goners for sure!
What makes it so forbidding? In the first place it addresses real sins. The chief sin of Jeremiah’s audience was idolatry, which is the worship of false gods. Rather than remain faithful to the Lord who had rescued them, and who had become their Husband, they were lured into the worship practices of the culture, practices marked by intoxication and known for their sexual immorality. The female clergy who manned the pagan temples provided “rest” for weary worshippers. They promised that the fertility gods would smile on their fields and their flocks, all for the stipulated donation and a little quality time spent together. How could God’s people resist? It was just good business wasn’t it? And didn’t a man have to take every measure to insure that he could feed his family? It all made perfect sense. But if there were any lingering doubts they were quickly erased after inhaling the temple incense for a few minutes.
Once divorced from their God by such sins the covenant people, on whom the Lord had showered such love, became more treacherous than a Siberian Tiger. They shed innocent blood, lived by deceit and every man coveted his neighbor’s possessions. For all this God made plans to destroy them. But because He is gracious He delayed His action, and sent prophets without number to reason with them, to preach a powerful Word to them so that they might repent, and He might relent from administering the justice which the Covenant clearly stipulated. Jeremiah was one of those prophets who not only predicted the coming of the Messiah but who was in many ways a walking, talking model of Him. Like Jesus, Jeremiah taught undiluted divine truth to people. He urged them to turn from their sins, to wake up from their culturally induced comas, to abandon their vain hopes of man-made salvation and to seek the blessings of God instead. But his message fell on deaf ears. People resisted it, hardened their hearts to it, and when all else failed they seized the messenger, held a sham trial and threatened to kill him -- and they came very close. In the end cooler heads prevailed, and it’s a good thing because had they succeeded they would have silenced the only voice of reason in the land; the only priest who comprehended the coming Sacrifice, the only Prophet who had a clear vision of the New Covenant which the Lord would make with them, and by which He would remember their sins no more. Neither would the blood of Jeremiah have done them any good. He was found innocent in man’s court but in God’s court he too was a sinner, as much in need of the salvation he dispensed as any other man.
No, Jeremiah’s blood could save no one. For this Innocent blood was needed: divine blood; blood provided by God Himself when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins; blood that purifies us from every sin, calms our troubled hearts and redeems us from everlasting death. The bloody version of the Christian faith can be intimidating because it is a vivid reminder of what each of us has merited by his sins. But rather than strike fear into our hearts it is God’s intent that the Cross should fill us with joy, that it should make our sorrowing spirits sing and evoke our never-ending praise, because on the cross Jesus was our substitute in death. By laying down His life and by taking it up again, our Lord gained Glory for us the likes of which no thought can reach, no tongue declare.
Yes, we need innocent blood and that is what we receive, along with our Lord’s own flesh, in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. Is this amazing? Is this hard to fathom? Does this bounce off your reason like a pin ball on steroids? It should come as no surprise. When Jesus expounded these truths to the crowds in John chapter six their reply was: this is a hard saying! Then St. John records the saddest event of all: after this many no longer followed Him. Jesus then asked the disciples: will you also leave me? To which bi-polar, schizophrenic Simon Peter replied with simple faith: Lord, to whom shall we go, for you have the Words of eternal life!
We have them too in the words: given and shed for you for the remission of sins. For far from being a mere mental exercise in which we recall a past event, in the Sacrament we actually and factually encounter the suffering, death and mighty resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Here we receive innocent blood that makes us authentically righteous, innocent and blessed. Here we obtain joy and peace. Here we acquire super-natural strength to defy the many devils which would take up residence in us, make us their home, make us their slaves and drag us down to perdition with them. It is here, and no where else on earth, that we locate the sheer joy of God’s love, to counteract the blitz-kreig of earth’s troubles.
Innocent blood: It is what we need and what we get from Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras