My students have a hard time wrapping their brains around the ritual of “drinking the blood of Jesus.” They struggle with it, especially my non-Christian students. “Gross” and “weird” are words I often hear in class when introducing students to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and rightly so. On the surface holy communion smacks of ghoulish vampires and blood-thirsty cannibals. Even some of my Christian students have expressed their “disgust” with the idea, and many of them think it is time for the church to “let go” of this “outdated” sacrament. Or, as one of my students stated, “at least change the metaphor to make it more appealing to kids.”
To help my students understand this concept I explain to them that blood in the ancient world was much more magical, mysterious, and supernatural than it is now. To see blood drain from a body during the Bronze Age was to watch it mysteriously die; blood was life, it was “life-saving,” and to lose it meant certain death. Hence, it makes perfect sense for God to order the Hebrew slaves (in the Exodus story) to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so they could be saved from the angel of death. Blood saves!
When reading the Bible it is impossible to not see the magical importance people before the Age of Reason attributed to blood. Clearly the Christian faith is built upon the idea of salvation through the blood of Jesus. According to the New Testament, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John 1-7) Jesus himself said “He who drinks my blood has eternal life.” And Paul wrote that in Jesus “we have redemption through his blood.” Once again, blood saves!
Some scholars argue that “the blood of Jesus” is a metaphor for his suffering and dying on the cross to bring about human salvation. In other words, Jesus’ blood has literally nothing to do with being saved, but rather his death and dying for the sins of the world. However – and this important to note – the Catholic Church still holds to the idea that during communion, the wine literally turns into the blood of Jesus (aka transubsantiation). This long-held Catholic belief (false or not) does speak to the enduring idea that blood is literally and magically connected to salvation. But either way, most of my students find the idea more archaic than believable. Hmmm…I wonder if the new Pope will address this issue? Your thoughts? Oh, and in my next post, I’ll address how my students react to the idea of “eating the flesh of Jesus.” More fun on the way!