Matt (palaeologos) wrote,

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I suppose one of the first things to ask is why, in the middle of Trinitytide, we wind up with a gospel lesson which refers us back to the Passion.  After all, in the midst of summer, the Passion is a bit out of place in the sequence of readings; certainly we get enough of it in the week before Easter that we could afford to leave it alone for the rest of the year?

Well, that's certainly a point.  But today is the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord, and there's a very good reason we're reading this particular passage today.  Today's epistle speaks of the sacrifice of Our Lord as being worth more (because of the nature of the being that was sacrificed) than all the blood sacrifices and offerings of Temple Judaism.  And the gospel lesson actualizes that with a very graphic image of the outpouring of Jesus' blood after the crucifixion.

Christians speak of being washed in the blood of the lamb, referring to the famous words in the Revelation about the saints who had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.  On the face of it, this is an absurd statement; being washed in blood doesn't make you clean, but dirty.  And especially for Jews, who had a whole list of taboos around the topic of blood, this statement must have seemed bizarre and offensive.  But the Lamb we are speaking of is an offering without spot or blemish : a pure offering, a holy offering, an immaculate offering (to paraphrase the Roman Canon).  His blood is untainted by sin; the outpouring of his blood upon the earth re-sanctifies it, and redeems his creation. 

But that's certainly not all that's going on in the lesson.  One of the possible introductory rites for the Mass is the Asperges, which is a formal reminder of Christian baptism.  In this rite, the celebrant proceeds through the church with a holy-water sprinkler, and sprinkles the congregation with it while an antiphon is sung.  In Eastertide, the antiphon used is the Vidi aquam : I saw water issuing from the right side of the temple, and all they who came to that water were saved.  This is an explicit reference to baptism, of course; and baptism is a form of application of the blood of Jesus Christ, which alone can remit sins.  In Baptism, we are baptized into the death of our Lord in order to share in his resurrection : recall how he said, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink ,and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  Jesus was referring to his death, and our baptism is, among other things, a way of recalling that death and participating in its benefits.

There is also a manual action of the Mass which this passage recalls.  Shortly after this sermon, during the Offertory, I will pour wine and a few drops of water into the chalice before consecrating the elements.  This action is an intentional reference to this passage.  There is a wonderful chant in the Roman Rite, which originated in the 14th century, and which many fine composers have subsequently set to music of their own composition, among them Mozart and William Byrd : the Ave verum corpus.  The words, translated into English, read :

Hail, true body,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Truly suffered, sacrificed
On the Cross for mankind,
Whose pierced side
Flowed with water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste
In the trial of death.
But why was this most Precious Blood shed?  It was shed, first and foremost, out of love for a broken creation.  St Paul tells us that without the shedding of blood is no remission of sin : hence the sacrifices required by the Old Law for transgressions.  It's important to realize, though, that these sacrifices were not in themselves sufficient.  They were accepted by God as the offerings of the truly contrite, but in themselves they could never repair the broken relationship between God and man.  There is no way that a bull, however fine, could make up for the damage that adultery, or the maiming of another human being, represents.  But God graciously accepted the sacrifices, and though they were far short of sufficient to mend the wrong that had been done, they were imputed to the contrite as though they sufficed--not solely on account of their contrition, but also with a view toward the greater sacrifice that was to be made in the fullness of time.  But now the full, final sacrifice has been made.  Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, willingly gave himself to an ignominious and painful death so that we might be saved from the consequence of our sins, and so that we might share in everlasting glory.  The sacrifice of God himself on the Cross more than suffices for our misdeeds; the sacrifice of the Infinite is of infinite value.  This is not an invitation to further sin, nor is it to be concluded that we may sin freely and lightly; it is rather a reminder that we have always the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Precious Blood of Our Savior, to plead for us before the throne of God Almighty. 

After Mass today, we will leave this place, and most likely, we will continue to make mistakes.  We are not perfect, and our perfection (which God wills of us) will take time.  The evil nature of humanity cannot be overcome in a day, and even saints are hard-pressed to overcome it in their lifetimes.  We will fall into sin, and we will drag ourselves back to God to be forgiven.  Our sins will pain us, and the need for forgiveness can be a source of almost crippling shame.  But the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us of all sin; and if we approach God with penitence and contrition, we will be forgiven, and given another chance.  Thanks be to God for the outpouring of his Precious Blood upon the world, to give us a second chance, a third chance, a seventy-times-seventh chance; for his infinite love and mercy for his creatures, and for the hope of eternal salvation.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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