In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
When God gave His Law to the people of Israel He taught them that blood was important. It is not something to treat casually. The whole of Leviticus chapter 17 centers on the sanctity of blood. God expressly forbids the shedding of an animal’s blood apart from sacrifices to make atonement and especially the ingestion of an animal’s blood: “And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 17:10). Why is blood so special? “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).
Some of the people around whom the Israelites lived used blood superstitiously. They poured it over fields to appease or awaken fertility gods. They drank it, believing they received the life and powers of the animal from which it came. But God tells His people that blood is sacred. It is given by Him, not to gain powers or to use for imagined purposes, but is given “to make atonement upon the altar for your souls.” God gave blood for atonement, for the covering of sin, to make one able to enter into God’s presence in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. If someone entered the Tabernacle who was not covered by blood sprinkled on the altars, his sin was uncovered and he took his uncleanness into God’s holy place and defiled God’s holiness. To do that was to face death, both temporal and eternal. Not only was the person who defiled the Tabernacle to be cut off from the assembly of the people of Israel, essentially making that person dead to the Israelites, but he was also cut off from God. He had attempted to come into God’s presence on his own terms, and unholy man cannot exist in the presence of holy God.
It is up to that holy God to tell His people how to use blood. Blood belongs to both the natural and supernatural realm because it is both living and life-giving. It is the most precious, powerful, and spiritual substance in the world. It is given by God to give life to the body because He is the life-giver. Blood must be given back to Him. That is why He was so particular about how the blood was to be applied, where, and when in the Old Testament sacrificial code. But the blood was not effective in making atonement because of the life in it, but because of the Word of God which had set it apart as the substance that makes atonement, the covering over of sin. Therefore it is not man’s to ingest, but God’s to receive upon His altar.
So imagine the horror and confusion among the disciples in the Upper Room as Jesus told them “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My Blood.” If drinking an animal’s blood was evil, how much more was the drinking of human blood! They are now caught between God telling them not to ingest blood and God telling them to drink His Blood. Why is it suddenly permissible to ingest blood, especially human blood? Because here this is no mere human blood, but Divine Blood, the Blood of God in the flesh! They are to drink it precisely because it is the Blood of God, as Jesus says: “Drink from it, all of you, for this is My Blood…which is shed…for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:27-28)
Jesus not only allows but demands the drinking of His Blood because animal blood doesn’t do anything eternal. Drinking animal blood to get life is to look for not only life from the wrong source, but the wrong kind of life as well. Animals don’t give life, and theirs is not immortal. The only Blood that gives life is Divine Blood, the Blood of Jesus, because it is both the very Blood, that is to say, the life, of the Author of Life, and it gives His life-giving Holy Spirit. And by Jesus’ Blood and the Spirit given in it, communion is restored with God, because to consume what belongs to God is to commune with Him. Drinking the Blood of Christ is a sign of ultimate communion with the Triune God, a communion never even imagined in the Old Testament!
The Old Testament blood simply covered sin and made one able to safely enter the Tabernacle without defiling its holiness or God’s. But Christ’s Blood, the blood of the New Testament, doesn’t merely cover sin, it forgives it, makes it like it never existed. Only in Christ, in His death on the cross, which we receive in Body and Blood under the form of bread and wine, is sin completely blotted out. Only the innocent Blood of Christ is so powerful that it can and does reverse sin and death, because it is the Blood of God, and therefore the life of God. To drink Christ’s Blood worthily in Holy Communion is to drink in life which cancels sin and death.
Now you receive the Blood which restored peace between God and men, the Blood that Jesus presented to the Father to forgive the sins of the whole world, the Blood that ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father. By receiving His Blood you receive all the eternal blessings won by Jesus’ perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection and ascension. Through this Blood you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. You are cleansed from all impurities and can now approach God without any fear of being cast out of His presence.
And now you are a participant not only in this Divine Service here on earth, but by the Blood of Jesus you are united with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Your voices join with theirs in praise of the Lamb who was slain, whose Blood sets you free from sin and death. You are united to the saints who have gone before you who rest in the light of heaven—friends, mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, all joint heirs of heaven.
So come, receive Jesus, your one Mediator, who brings God to you and you back to God. Receive the Blood that makes us sinners holy by giving us life and washing us clean.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Note: this sermon is indebted to two invaluable resources:
Brege, Daniel J. Eating God’s Sacrifice: The Lord’s Supper Portrayed in Old Testament Sacrifice. Morrisville: Lulu, 2009.
Kleinig, John W. Leviticus. Concordia Commentary series. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).