Anytime we talk about blood, we know we’re talking about something extremely important, we’re talking about something critical.. When I was growing up, we used to play ten point pitch. We didn’t play for money; we played for blood. Perhaps you’ve used the term for discussions or other verbal confrontations you’ve had, or you’ve heard the old rule: “No blood, no foul.” You might have heard the phrase about how easy it is to get blood out of a turnip.
Getting out of the metaphorical, we know that blood means life, that’s why we have blood drives, and why giving blood is such a profound gift. We have blood tests to see what kind of physical shape we’re in, and what we have or don’t have tells us if we’re sick. Blood borne illnesses are among the most deadly ones known, and the threat of one is appropriately frightening.
We have all kinds of relatives, and our blood relatives are ones that we know we’ll always have. Over our lifetimes, we gather friends who may be as close as family, but they are never the same as blood relatives. In ancient Europe, commitments were made by sharing blood, swearing oaths in blood and deliberately mixing blood to make the bond more profound.
In today’s first reading, we have a ritual that is the foundation of the First Covenant, the Sinai covenant. Moses has the entire Law read to the people of Israel and asks them if they will agree to it. They agree formally to live by God’s commands and to be his covenant people.
Then the bulls are sacrificed: part of them are consumed entirely, to signify whole hearted commitment to God and establish peace. The rest is used to provide blood, which in ancient times was considered to carry the life force of the animal, and the pouring of the blood is to seal the Covenant. The altar is splashed with blood first, since God is the initiator of the covenant, the one who delivered the people from bondage and the one who will lead them to the promised land to live in covenant with him. Then Moses, reads the Law to the people again, which may seem a little strange to us but is probably something that needs to be done so the people will know what they’re getting into. Then he takes what’s leftover from the blood and sprinkles the people with the other half. And you may think our Rite of Sprinkling is a bit more than it needs to be.
Imagine what it must have been like to get hit with hot blood, to see that splash on your clothes and your skin, where it’s not going to come off easily in the desert, and know that you’ve made a very real and permanent commitment. There’s something frightening about that, and there’s something very reassuring about that, because you know that you and God are bound together inseparably.
As we celebrate that feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we don’t have to worry about literally getting splashed with blood, but we’re called to remember our blood relationships. Blood is still the substance that carries life, and it is what Jesus poured out for us to redeem our sins and seal us in a new covenant. We are marked by that Blood, we are permanently stained by the Blood, and we are brought together by that Blood.
Through Christ, we are all blood relatives. As sharers of the Body and Blood of Christ, that blood courses through our veins, which challenges us to look at each other in a very new way. It challenges us to look at all those in need in a different way, who carry the Blood of Christ; it challenges us to look those we have trouble coping with, because they also carry the Blood of Christ. The Church isn’t a club that we can join or leave at a whim, although we may think we can from time to time. We are called here by the Blood as family, to be present in the new Covenant, and to be send forth as the Body of Christ to be the presence of Christ in the world.
We make the great Covenants with our God present today by the sharing of this sacrament, as we do every time we share a sacrament. By sharing the Body and Blood of Christ, we are back in the desert with the people of Israel, splashed by the blood that binds us with the one we have freely chosen to follow; we are in the upper room with Christ and the disciples on Passover Eve and at the foot of the Cross to see the stream of our Savior’s love flow down, and in the Garden where the tomb is found to be empty. We are called to remember who we’re related to through Christ’s Blood, which is everyone, and how we are to relate to each other as blood relatives. We are vessels of the saving fluid in spite of ourselves, and the marks that blood has left on our hearts challenge us to live as Christ would have us live.