Hebrews 12:18-29, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost C, August 25, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The blood running through our arteries and veins is such a beautiful, powerful life source. This organ runs through us, bringing life-giving oxygen and nutrients to every part of our body. Our blood even takes away our waste. Our cells can function because our blood enables them to do so.
It is because blood is such a vital part of our bodies that some cultures think that blood is sacred. Even in the Bible, blood is considered life, which is why we are not supposed to eat the blood of animals. And yet, just as blood is so life-giving, blood can also take life away. For if blood stops flowing through the body, then life ends.
The body is naturally equipped to repair itself. When minor cuts or injuries cause bleeding, the blood clots to begin the healing process. Yet, when blood clots where it is not supposed to, either in the brain, heart, or lung, it can cause strokes, heart attacks, or death.
Blood has been on my mind a lot this week. As my dad slowly begins to heal from his blood clots, I worry about him. I also began to grieve anew for my cousin and uncle who died from pulmonary embolisms. You see, a genetic blood clotting disorder runs through our family bloodline. So, you can imagine, when I heard last Saturday night that my father had a pulmonary embolism, I was scared.
In my family, pulmonary embolism equates to death, yet my father survived. Why did my father survive yet my cousin and uncle died? I do not know. Maybe this is part of God’s plan; maybe my Dad was just lucky. Either way, my Dad has a long road ahead of him as his clots continue to dissolve.
With the power of blood on my mind this week, I was struck by verse 24 of the second lesson: “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (NRSV) Here, Jesus’ spilled blood from the cross is compared to the blood of Abel spilled in a field.
Think back with me to Genesis chapter 4 and recall the story of Cain and Abel: These brothers are the sons of Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden, they were expelled from Eden. From that day on, their lives were more difficult because of it.
When Cain and Abel were old enough, their parents certainly told them stories about how wonderful Eden was, and how they threw it away with a foolish bite of fruit. Now, grown up, Cain has chosen to be a farmer, and Abel a sheepherder. When the time came for them to offer a sacrifice of gratitude to the Lord, Cain offered of his grain and Abel offered a fattened lamb.
For some reason, the Lord preferred the lamb, and Cain was extremely jealous. So jealous in fact, that he brought Abel into his field and killed him. The Lord, angry at Cain for killing his brother, tells him, “What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen. 4:10, NRSV)
The blood of Abel cried out to the Lord for justice and judgment, and the Lord responded in kind. The Lord punished Cain to a life of hard labor. Marking him so that no one would kill him, the Lord forced Cain to live out his days always reflecting on the blood that he spilled. This second sin may have been worse than the first.
Our second lesson from the book of Hebrews upholds another one’s spilled blood – Jesus. Abel was tricked into his death, yet Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. Jesus willingly carried his cross to the point of death, offering his life in our place. The blood that he spilled was sacred and life-giving in a way that ours is not. Our blood sustains us physically in the short run, but Jesus’ blood sustains our spirit forever. We have life because Jesus gave up his.
Jesus’ blood also cried out to the Lord. But instead of crying out for judgment, Jesus’ blood cried out for forgiveness and redemption. Jesus’ blood willingly given overturned Abel’s blood spilled by deceit and greed. Said another way, the blood of sin is purified by the blood of sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus’ blood purifies all of us, not just Abel.
Jesus’ death and consequent gift of life created a new covenant between God and God’s people. Jesus is the mediator of this, but not in the way that we think of a mediator. Jesus didn’t have God and humanity sit at opposite ends of a conference table to have us hash out an unwilling compromise. No. Jesus is the middleman, sharing with us the covenant that God freely gives.
We have heard about covenants in the Old Testament. God promises to Noah never to destroy the earth again. God promises to Abraham land, fame, and a child who will bring uncountable descendants. God promises to David that there will always be a king on the throne of Israel. All of these covenants, although broad sweeping, only related to life on earth. The Lord made grand promises that continue to today, but none of the covenants from the Old Testament even mention life everlasting.
This is why this covenant Jesus mediated is so wonderful. Because Jesus spilled his blood, we might have life eternal. We will live past our earthly days because of Jesus. Jesus frees us from the bonds of sin so that we might be able to serve the Lord through worship, word, and deed. Every time that we receive communion, we can remember how Jesus’ spilled blood gives us life. Every time that we leave this building, we leave renewed, empowered, and enlivened again to share the love of God with the world.
In Jesus’ blood spilled from the cross, we see a reflection of God’s love for us. In this life force of Jesus, we see how a world of sin, pain, and death was overturned. In the blood of Jesus, we hear a word of Gospel that speaks a better word than the blood of sin. Thanks be to God. Amen.