02 September 2015

Washed in the blood

(Warning for visceral description of blood.)

I've never been a big fan of the book of Revelation and it has been years since I read the entire thing from start to finish.  However, it does crop up in the lectionary from time to time and this time it is: Revelation 7:13-17.

As I was reading though the lessons, the phrase "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" sprang out at me and I really thought about what it would be like to wash something in blood and have faith that it would come out, not only clean, but purified.

Fresh blood is warm and sticky.  It has a distinctive smell that can drive animals into fear or frenzy. Dried blood leaves indelible stains. White cloth dipped in blood will, in the normal course of events, be permanently marred.

So what does it mean to be washed in blood as a visceral experience?  Would that metaphor have more power for people who had regular experience of both animal sacrifice and killing and eating their own stock?

I, for one, rarely eat meat and what little I do eat, I buy from a grocery store when it has been drained of blood and prepared for prompt use.  I have never hunted, and the only animals whose death I have witnessed have been well-loved pets (and most of those from old age). The most blood I have experience with is my own, shed either through menstruation or by accident.

In the realm of metaphor, most of what I have seen comes from the communion table where wine subs in for the Blood of Christ.  Communion wine might be dry or sweet, but it tastes noting like the salty blood from an inadvertent paper-cut and has none of blood's proverbial thickness.  In my thinking, blood stands for loss and suffering; for separation and impurity; and for sacrifice and death.

The idea that one could take a garment, or a person, wash them in blood, and have them come out clean says to me that these are people who have suffered and lost, who have been immersed in suffering, who have had pain stick to them like dried blood; and yet, they have come though the other side of suffering clean and dry, their robes made white, their pain relieved.

As the psalm for the day says: 

Restore, O Lord, our fortunes
like freshets in the Negeb.
They who sow in tears
in glad song will reap.
He walks along and weeps,
the bearer of the seed bag.
He will surely come in with glad song
bearing in his sheaves.
(Psalm 126:4-6 from "The Book of Psalms" by Robert Alter)


Resources used: 
Bible Gateway  (all quotes in this essay are from the NRSV translation)
Alter, R. (2007). The Book of Psalms: A translation with commentary (pp. 447-448). New York: W.W. Norton.

Originally published in: Speaking to the Soul: Washed in the blood on 1 September 2015

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