Why Blood Shocks
The bloodiness of our age is not an anomaly.
Ultra-modern blood tests and pre-modern vampire myths get at something the Christian Scriptures already tell us about reality: The life is in the blood. Immediately after walking off the Ark into a new creation, the patriarch Noah is commanded not to eat the blood of animals, blood that is said to be "the life of the flesh" (Gen. 9:4).
The seriousness with which Yahweh takes blood is carried over into the Mosaic Law, in which God warns the Israelites against the eating of blood. He tells them the blood is "the life" of the animal, and thus is to be treated as holy, and that blood is to be handled reverently since it is the means of atonement (Lev. 17:10-16). This prohibition is no mere "shadow" of Israelite ceremony.
It is repeated in the Jerusalem Council's instruction to Gentile believers as an "essential" (with abstaining from fornication) of Christian practice (Acts 15:28-29).
Blood in Scripture carries with it the implication of morality, of dependence on the life-giving of Yahweh. After the Fall, righteous Abel approaches God not through vegetation—the result of the human vocation to till the ground—but through the veil of bloodied flesh, the recognition that all is not as it is intended to be (Gen. 4:1-7).
When Abel is felled by his brother, his blood is said to cry out from the field itself (Gen. 4:10). When the Holy One of Israel wishes to remind Pharaoh that he is a man and not a god, he turns Pharaoh's life-giving Nile River into blood itself (Ex. 7:17-25).
The Apostle John sees the same judgment on a self-worshiping humanity, content to revel in its independence from God. The waters they so need become blood before them (Rev. 8:8).
Moreover, the New Testament insists that in the Incarnation, Jesus shares with us more than our body type. He shares with his brothers "flesh and blood," the very essence of human nature (Heb. 2:14-15). It is not just that Jesus once had a blood type; he still does.
The blood of Jesus is everywhere present in the New Testament as a reminder of precisely what our horror films and AIDS education films and Darwinian nature documentaries already intuit: that life is a bloodbath. The Old Testament is built on rivers of animal blood, mounds of blood-drained carcasses.
But not simply a bloodbath: All these scenes point toward the ultimate Passover Lamb, who will approach the heavenly places not with the blood of goats and bulls, but with his own blood (Heb. 9:12). The intercession of Christ, and the life of his Church, isn't simply about a set of doctrines or an ethical mandate. It all comes down to blood.
Christians sometimes see John 6 as a text to be avoided due to its divisiveness. Evangelicals don't want to sound "too Catholic," and Catholics don't want to end up in another discussion of whether the body eaten and the blood drunk refer to the Mass or to faith in Christ. This is an important question, and one about which we should continue to contend strongly with one another.
But let us not lose the shocking nature of Jesus' call to the crowds at Galilee. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you," Jesus says (John 6:53), not just to a generic mob but to those trained from childhood not to eat even the blood of meat.
Jesus offends us with our own blood—reminding us that what runs through our veins will one day run cold—and telling us that in order to live, we must be united to the lifeblood of another, a blood spilled for rebels like us.