Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
Holy Week(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
“There will be blood” is the title of an Academy awarded film of an Upton Sinclair novel from 1927. The phrase could well have been written above the stable in which the Christ was born as indeed it could be seen as a leit motif of the years of his growth into adulthood and his subsequent public ministry. Saint Mathew’s Gospel records Jesus saying: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them” (5:17): the ratification of the Old Covenant had been made by animal sacrifice and it is worth remembering that the Temple at Jerusalem was the only place in Israel where the Covenant of God with his People could be renewed through sacrifice – part of the Temple to which Jesus was attracted in his youth, and to which he would return at the culmination of his life, would have resembled an abattoir and the stench of blood would have been in the nostrils of the worshippers who gathered there. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “according to the Law almost everything has to be purified with blood; and if there is no shedding of blood there is no remission” (9:22).
That same Letter to the Hebrews, of course, is drawing a sharp distinction between the priesthood and sacrifices required under the Old Law and the radically fresh era opened up by the New Covenant. The core of the writer’s argument is summed up in the realisation that if: “the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives: how much more effectively the blood of Christ who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit can purify our inner self” (9:13). As Jesus’ understanding of his vocation deepens so does the realisation that there will be bloody conflict and that the reconciliation of a damaged world with its Creator can only be achieved through the breaking open of his own body. “There will be blood”. Nowhere is this brought home to the Redeemer more strongly than in Gethsemane where his humanity revolts against the inevitable: the intensity of the struggle evidenced by the fact that “in his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44) - a precursor of what would happen when the soldier’s spear pierced his heart “and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).
July is the month of special devotion to the Precious Blood and the emphasis of these next few weeks is a reminder of the lengths to which the Godhead is prepared to go to pull us and our world back on course. “It was not the death that pleased him (God the Father) but rather the will of him who freely died, who through that death abolished death, made salvation possible and restored innocence” (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux). Our own Cathedral church at Westminster is dedicated to the Precious Blood and over its main entrance are inscribed the words: “Domine Jesus, Rex et Redemptor, per Sanguinem tuum salva nos” (Lord Jesus Christ, King and Redeemer, save us through your Blood). We believe that through Christ’s willingness to accept death on the cross, his atoning blood sacrifice establishes a new Covenant of mercy. If we can express it in this way, the Father now looks at us in a different way, seeing in each one of us a true icon of the Son who has re-made our humanity in the absolute testament of obedience and surrender which is Calvary.
Edward Caswall of the London Oratory translated a Lutheran hymn and included the stanza: “Grace and life eternal in that Blood I find; blest be his compassion, infinitely kind”. There, surely, we go to the heart of the Christian message? There are so many competing understandings of the Godhead in today’s troubled world (some of them so legalistic, judgemental and at times plain frightening … where people will commit acts of violence and murder to defend the defective image of God with which they have imbibed) but the God who reveals himself in Jesus, the one prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, reveals himself as merciful love, as gentle compassion.