Blood of Jesus
Bedtime theology with the 4 yo...
(After reading more bedtime stories than I intended)
4 yo: Please can we read one more? The one where Jesus dies?
Me: Well, it's really late. Let's turn the lights off and I'll tell it to you in a short version.
4 yo: Okay.
Me: (Tells a brief version of Jesus death on the cross, including Easter summary)
4 yo: But how Jesus come back to life?
Me: God raised him up, with God's power.
4 yo: But what about the blood?
Me: The blood?
4 yo: Yeah, how he get the blood back in him? The blood got off the ground? After that bad guy poked him with a sword?
Me: Well, I'm not sure exactly how that worked, but God did a miracle, Jesus came back to life, stayed on earth for a bit and then went back to heaven (trying to wrap this up).
4 yo: Okay but why God didn't die instead of Jesus?
Me: Oh wow, that's a great question. What do you think? (Choosing to skip doctrine of Trinity)
4 yo: Well, God should have died because Jesus was more important than God.
Me: So you think Jesus was more important than God? Why?
4 yo: Well, Jesus is a teeeeeny bit more important than God, so God should have died instead.
Me: Hmmm. I'd never thought of it like that before.
The bloody language was initially a turn-off, to be honest. I was visiting a congregation when this hymn was sung: There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins, and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.
Yikes. I could barely sing it, for being distracted by the repulsive thought of hopping into a bloody pool. All around me, folks were singing with gusto, while I pondered the lyrics, perplexed by their appeal.
Raised in a Scandinavian-heritage Midwest Lutheran church, I heard little focus on the blood of Jesus or his suffering. The Mel Gibson bloodbath film about Jesus' crucifixion was an eye-opener to me as a young adult. It had never occurred to me to put much emphasis on or pay attention to the blood of Jesus. Jesus' suffering was a bothersome necessity on the pathway to the glorious and shiny resurrection. Why linger on the blood?
There are many faith traditions where the blood and suffering of Jesus take a more central role. My spouse remembers traveling in Mexico as as young adult and being surprised at the suffering images Jesus on the cross (and he was even raised Catholic!) Years ago I worked alongside a woman from a Pentecostal tradition during a hospital chaplaincy stint, and she had a habit of murmuring "blood of Jesus" as an emphasis in speech, the way I might say "jeepers" or "goodness." She and I went on a road trip that summer with a colleague who drove too fast; I see her in my mind's eye, gripping the arm rest around scary turns and yelling "blood of Jesus."
My child's interest in the blood of Jesus was slight here, but I thought about it a lot later. I thought about how important it is to learn about the faith traditions of others, even when they seem odd or off-putting. I thought about how holy insights are everywhere, when we take a posture of humility over certainty. I thought about how I want my children to be raised Lutheran, but learn as much possible about spiritual insights found elsewhere. Even in the blood of Jesus.
I am not exactly sure about the role of the blood of Jesus for faith traditions other than my own. I notice that the language tends to be used among people who have experienced systemic racism, oppression and suffering. Maybe the reality of Christ's own suffering meets people in their lived experience? Perhaps the blood of Jesus is a comfort in times of struggle, in times that aren't shiny resurrection experiences. God is in the blood of Christ as surely as in the risen one.
Years after my first exposure to the song about the fountain filled with blood, I visited that same congregation again. By then I'd sang that song in other places, and it had lost its shock value. In fact, I kind of like it. It has a catchy tune, and reminds me that truth and even beauty transcend my ability to identify them by myself. That day, the congregational leader asked for hymn suggestions. I raised my hand. We sang about the blood of Jesus, together.