From the passion in the Gospel of Matthew. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The guilt of saying this phrase washes over me. On it’s heels comes an even more shocking phrase, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” I am sitting in the pews at St. Mark’s and a standing room only crowd of more than five hundred people shockingly responds in unison. I have several reactions. My first reaction is, “It’s not fair! Why can’t we read the Jesus sections or even the sections of one of the other characters. After all we are the body of Christ!”
The priest gets to be the voice of Jesus and act in his role every day. Why not share the wealth with the baptized. Imagine us in the place of Jesus. Feel the sting of betrayal. The pain of torture. The empathy for the crowd and the crucifiers. Imagine the abiding benevolence that surges to the fore to allow me to go through with the death that will change the world. That is one reaction.
A second reaction follows. It is a reaction punctuated and overlaid with the Judeo-Christian biblical experience and memory. It is a reality layered with story and symbol that carries the ritual power to transform. In this reality words are not only sound vibrations they are a part of the the divine creative act. After all, in Hebrew speaking and making are the same word.
The base layer of the portrait is formed by the story of the Passover. In the story of the Passover, God is unfolding his process for freeing the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt. A string of miracles bringing calamity to the Egyptians has only hardened their hearts. In the final stroke, the Angel of Death is sent to kill every firstborn of man and beast in the land of Egypt. In a moment of high drama and revelation of the luminous power of death and life the Hebrews are given a ritual to save themselves and strengthen their bond with God. The sacrifice and unblemished lamb and mark their homes with the lamb’s blood. They are saved and quickly take their first steps toward freedom. The blood marks the chosen people.
The second layer occurs on Mt. Sinai (exodus 24). God and Moses perform a ritual to finalize the chosen people's covenant with God. Moses speaks with God and returns to share what the Lord had said with the people. In response to Moses the people say, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses writes down all the Lord said, and the next day he offers sacrifices which culminate with the following:
8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
This covenant is renewed at least three more times.
The first with Joshua (Joshua 8), the second with King Josia and the high priest Hilkia(2 Kings 23), and the third with Ezra (Nehemia 8 &9).
It happened again. One more time. Outside the Praetorium an unwitting crowd says the words that echoe the actions of their ancestors. They will be saved even in their sin, stubbornness, and love of violence by the blood of the one they have condemned. We speak these words for ourselves in Holy Week. “Crucify him! Let his blood be on us and our Children.”
Are we any different? Any less sinful? True knowledge of our own sinfulness is a difficult ingredient to add and maintain in our spiritual perspective but it is vital. We must open our eyes to our sinfulness if we are to truly be Christian. It is not just that once upon a time we stole a cookie or that in a terrible breach of covenant we had an affair.
WE ARE SINNERS TODAY, YESTERDAY, TOMORROW AND FOREVER. We fall short of the love and justice that Jesus calls us to and gives us the grace to achieve. That is why we need his blood on a continual basis. His blood must be on us. His blood is on us. Through that blood we take our place with God’s people. Through that blood we are saved from the Angel of Death just as the enslaved Hebrews were. Through this blood we are saved from the Final Death of Sin.
And it continues, in each Eucharist. We accept His blood again. Our lives and our souls are marked with it. Our place in God’s holy people is renewed and our life in God is strengthened.
“Crucify him! Let his blood be on us and our Children.” It isn’t a threat; it is our hope for the Resurrection.