The Lord’s Blood

Holy Saturday Reflection

A dull sense of peace returns to me, one that I’m almost guilty about. Maybe it’s not peace so much as the space left after an emotional cry; the space of emotional recovery. Only I didn’t cry actual tears this Good Friday. Maybe I should have — maybe we all should have. Dropping back into mundane tasks after praying and reflecting when Christ hung on the Cross is a bit surreal. I stand over the washing machine and dryer wondering why I am blessed with having nothing more to worry about than laundry. I don’t really deserve the peace and easy life that I have. I certainly didn’t earn it. What have I done for you, Lord?

Thank God we have Christians around the world who abandon themselves more completely to the mystery of Christ’s entry into the world. I’m sure there are religious somewhere who are actually mourning, who cried real tears as they recalled His time on the Cross. And I’m sure they will rejoice with a certain type of ecstatic joy when celebrating His Resurrection tonight and tomorrow. May God hear their prayers as they intercede for the rest of us.

Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (1498), Michaelangelo | Wikimedia Commons.

I do believe that having this space of emotional recovery, this marking of my senses and thoughts, is a step in the right direction. But sometimes I worry that the intellectual work of reflection is too far removed from living the life of love and charity we’re called to live. It’s one thing to be an Augustine or Aquinas, enlightening the world. It’s another to be an armchair philosopher just learning as he goes. If talk is cheap, then blogging to the emptiness of the internet is completely worthless. Yet, living the faith takes many forms…

(At this point, I’m so glad that I haven’t been writing about my personal “feelings” and emotional experience throughout Lent. What drivel!)

I’d like to use this space when Christ is entombed on Holy Saturday to present two fantastic reflections from yesterday’s and today’s Office of Readings. I don’t have much to add to them other than what they amply present in themselves. In the first one (from yesterday), St. John Chrysostom explains the significance of the Lord’s blood as well as the blood and water flowing from His side when the lance pierces Him. The second (today’s) is the description of Christ’s descent into hell to rescue Adam and Eve and it’s significance today above all days. I’ve always wondered where this traditional belief came from and was happily surprised that this was today’s reading. Here they are:

The lamentation over the dead Christ icon in St. Panteleimon’s Church, Nerezi, North Macedonia (1164), Meister von Nerezi | Wikimedia Commons.

Second Reading from the Office of Readings on Good Friday — Saint John Chrysostom’s Catecheses (3:13-19):

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves, also called Le Coup de Lance (1619-1620), Peter Paul Rubens | Wikimedia Commons.

Second Reading from the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday — from a homily on Holy Saturday by Bishop Melito of Sardis (d.180 AD):

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

Harrowing of Hell (1496-1498), Jacqueline de Montlucon | Creative Commons, image from studiomatters.com.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Christ’s Journey into Hell, Salvation of Adam, fresco (c.1430s), Fra Angelico | Wikimedia Commons.

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