A deal is a deal, signed in blood, but we humans keep breaking it

  • June 8, 2009
Body and Blood of Christ (Year B) June 14 (Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)

In the ancient world, ratifying covenants and treaties was a rather bloody and messy affair. The rights and responsibilities of each party were clearly articulated, as were dire consequences for non-compliance.

To drive home the solemnity and seriousness of the covenant the very life-force itself — blood — was sprinkled on both the altar and the people involved to seal the agreement. Sealing it in blood made it very clear that the deal was irrevocable, and a matter of life and death.

A covenant with a god was especially frightening, complete with promised punishments and disasters for failure to uphold the human side of the agreement.

Nowadays our agreements are far less messy — at least outwardly. Modern contracts are almost unintelligible to those who sign them. Layers of legalese can conceal hidden dangers. But one thing has not changed: human beings find fidelity and commitment difficult.

Treaties and contracts are often broken, as are our promises to God. Even our best intentions can be diverted by human self-delusion and manipulation.

In the covenant with the God of Israel, the people have agreed enthusiastically and with one voice that they will do all of the things God has required of them. In return, they will enjoy God’s blessings and protection — they will live at peace in the land and will prosper.

We know what happened. The sprinkled blood had barely dried when the infidelity and compromise began.

God always fulfilled his promises. The people more often than not gave mere lip service. But God’s compassion and mercy always trumped human weakness and sin. The covenant with Israel was continually modified and renewed and remains in force.

Our own Christian covenant is also portrayed in terms of blood and sacrifice. The theology of Hebrews is already beginning that journey towards a symbolic or metaphorical understanding of covenantal sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ put an end to all spilled blood and sacrifice and it enabled believers to receive eternal life as a gracious gift of God. The covenant followers of Jesus enter is one of compassion, service and justice.

How should we understand the covenant in Christ’s blood? It is not blood and suffering required or demanded to mollify God’s wrath or buy divine favor. The sacrifice lies in the willingness of Jesus to hold back nothing in his quest to serve and redeem humanity. He was willing to endure ridicule, rejection, personal abuse and ultimately death. Any one of these is enough to make most people think twice or turn back from their goal, but Jesus pressed on and did not count the cost. He took the worst this world could offer and transformed it into a blessing.