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It's In The Blood
June 5, 1994

LUKE 22:7-20

We don't sing or talk much about blood in church anymore. We have just sung an unfamiliar hymn to many of us. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can cleanse us, we sang. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. The Pentecostals sing, There is power in the blood. Somehow, polite, sophisticated, educated religion is offended by blood. We retain it in the Communion liturgy, Jesus said, "This is my blood," but we don't talk much about blood. I wonder if, by diluting our imagery, we don't also dilute the power and effectiveness of the gospel, and get a "wimpy" religion.

A young man in his early twenties died of diabetes related diseases. During the last several years of his life, his mother cared for him. She took off work and became his nurse. No one could have done more for him than she did. No one could have done better, yet she is paralyzed with guilt. She is possessed by "If onlys...If only I had done this or that...If only I had forced him to watch his diet when he was a teenager.." Her friends and family assure her that she could not have done more. When a teenager develops bad eating habits, there is little Mother can do about it.

Yet, she persists in feeling guilty. In fact, her guilt is so paralyzing, she can't work. She is losing her friends because she has no energy, time, or consideration with which to nurture important interpersonal relationships. She is depressed, incapacitated, driven, paralyzed. She has always been an active church member. She has faith in God. She probably even believes God forgives her. She probably admits that her son forgives her. Her son probably would not understand her blaming herself. But, she can't forgive herself.

Many, if not most of us, feel guilty about something or other; something we've done, or something we've not done. In my observation, our culture does not handle guilt well. We don't seem to know what to do with guilt, or how to be rid of it. There is a widespread epidemic of emotional paralysis, caused by guilt. Especially do we have difficulty forgiving ourselves. Conscientious people, good people, respectable people often fail to live up to their own expectations. They have high, idealistic expectations, and are often much more tolerant of others than they are tolerant of themselves. They can forgive mistakes of others, but have difficulty forgiving their own mistakes. Even Christians have a difficult time with guilt.

The heart of the Christian gospel--the good news--is that God loves us and saves us. God redeems, justifies (makes right), forgives, reconciles. God reunites us with God our Creator; unites us with each other; and unites us with ourselves. The good news is that God forgives sins, and eradicates guilt. A little boy approached a guard at the Washington Monument, handed the guard a quarter, and said, "I'd like to buy it." The guard said, "That's not enough." The boy replied, "I thought you would say that." So he pulled out nine cents more. The guard looked at the boy and said, "You need to understand three things. First, 34 cents is not enough; even 34 million dollars is not enough. Second, the Washington Monument is not for sale. And third, if you are an American citizen, the Washington Monument already belongs to you."

The gospel says three things about forgiveness. First, we cannot earn it. Second, it is not for sale. And third, in Christ we already have it. You cannot buy yourself a conscience free of guilt. But, Jesus has already paid with his life. Jesus has done whatever needs to be done, in order for you to be forgiven. That is the Christian good news.

Besides understanding forgiveness, what might help us experience forgiveness is to reclaim the biblical image of blood. It's in the blood. Hebrews 9:12, "Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus took the cup of wine, gave it to his disciples and said, (Luke 7:20) This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Christ poured out his blood, which in the Bible symbolizes life; Christ poured out his life so that you may be forgiven, and released from guilt.

To establish the new covenant between God and us cost Jesus his life. Some gangs touch their wrists with a knife, and join the drop of blood with another member, forming a covenant, a pact of blood brothers. Jesus didn't prick his wrist with a knife. Jesus gave his life. We are bonded with God not through a drop of blood, but with all of Jesus' blood which was poured out for us. I asked Jesus, "How much do you love me?" "This much," he answered; and, stretching out his arms, he died.

We Protestants have been so offended by blood--our sensibilities offended at the idea of blood cleansing us--we're left with little in our churches but a lot of guilt! And, often when there is not enough guilt, the church adds some. Churches like to motivate with guilt--You ought! You should!. Our spiritual ancestors asked, "Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?" Christ's blood cleanses, washes, frees. There is a fountain filled with blood where sinners are washed, where sinners lose their guilty stains. Is this image crude, gross, primitive, offensive? So is guilt. Guilt is ugly, demoralizing, incapacitating, paralyzing. Guilt is so strong, so powerful, it takes the life of Jesus to be rid of it. It takes the life of Christ, the blood of Jesus, to cleanse you of sin. Image your sins being washed away, down the drain, carried into the sewer where they belong, never to return.

Then you may walk in faith as a free person. Leave your sin, leave your guilt at the foot of the cross. Walk in faith forgiven, redeemed; forgiven by God, forgiven by yourself. Christ can even take away the guilt you carry by yourself and for yourself. Confess your sins, confess your guilt. Receive Communion this morning. This morning we will experience Communion in a new way. The four girls who participated in Chrysalis a few weeks ago will dramatize the liturgy in a new way. Let the imagery, let the power of the blood wash over you. Be cleansed, be washed in the blood of the lamb, and walk in faith as a free, forgiven person.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris