Sanctified Defilements: Cleansing Blood

This Sunday I will be preaching from Mark 5:21-43 concerning the raising of Jairus’ dead 12 year old daughter and the healing of the unclean woman with 12 years of bleeding. Such stories are all the more striking in light of the OT and Jewish traditions regarding purity. To touch the dead (as Jesus does with the girl) and to be touched by the unclean (as Jesus is by the woman) should defile Jesus. However, these stories don’t describe such (taking for granted the obvious nature of such). Instead, they point to the restoration, cleansing, and healing that is conveyed.

While Jesus would indeed be defiled by touching the girl and being touched by the woman, the radical nature of these stories points in the opposite direction: the cleansing and wholeness being imparted from Jesus to the girl and woman. In fact, I would contend Jesus offers cleansing precisely through his self-sacrificial taking on their uncleanness.

“The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter” (1871) by Vasiliy Polenov

In light of this movement by Jesus, it makes the taking of communion (or Eucharist) all the more powerful. The Church is instructed to consume Jesus’ body and blood in the elements of bread and cup. This would be an ultimate defilement for this community grafted into Israel. And yet this very act constitutes a testimony to the cleansing, healing life of Jesus constituting this community by His Spirit bringing to bear His presence in their midst.

“In the OT the partaking of blood in any form, even blood in meat, was strictly forbidden….However, in the Eucharist, the meal that commemorates the making of the new covenant, believers partake of the bread and wine, elements that represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).  By eating these elements a believer shares in the benefits of Jesus’ death (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9:15-22).  The discourse in John 6:52-59 is amazingly radical in its vivid imagery.  Jesus boldly speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood …. The intent of these words in John is … to pronounce boldly that in partaking of these elements a believer commemorates Jesus’ death and enters into the deepest communion with his Lord.” (John E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992], 279-280)

The bearing of the unclean (his flesh and blood), by the grace of the Lord, becomes the receiving of cleansing … and the communion of saints is made saints by the Spirit of Holiness imparting the life of the cursed one hung on a tree, buried, and raised. Further, in his resurrection, Jesus did not pass through any cleansing rite upon being raised, yet shares meals with his disciples repeatedly and invites faith-confirming contact. How could Jesus be clean? It is the uncleanness of his death that cleanses and gives life in the testimony of God raising him. Jesus is declared (and even made) clean by his being raised. The very nature of his being cursed and unclean willingly has become the very thing which the Father uses to heal and make clean. In the book of Acts it is the testimony of Son and Spirit to Peter that what God has made clean should not be called unclean (Acts 10).

In Christ Jesus a new day has dawned wherein bearing uncleanness is the way to cleansing. And this is the faithfulness of our Great God and Savior! And this is the testimony of the Church in the midst of the world!

Remember Me…

As I was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) today I was struck by several comments made in regard to “remembering” (specifically in reference to John’s Gospel account) and how they might relate to the “remembering” of the Lord’s Supper. In light of the “remembering” concerning Christ that occurs after the resurrection of our Lord (and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit), there is something profound that occurs at the table of the Lord.
The Resurrection teaches us a new way of seeing…it makes it possible to enter into the interiority of the events into the intrinsic coherence of God’s speaking and acting (pg.232).
The “remembering” is not simply an intellectual assent to bare facts (like remembering some event that occured in the past), but a “remembering” that is vivified by the Holy Spirit; it gives life to those who “remember” and death to those who partake of it in an “unworthy manner” and thereby are disdaining the body and blood of Christ (see 1 Cor.11:27-30). It is a “remembering” that incorporates us into the hidden life of Christ; incorporates us into the very real life of the Trinity.  It is a “remembering” that changes everything…it is both of thought, word and action.  It is a “remembering” that bridges the gap of 2000 years and participates in the ever present life of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father where we are already present with Him (Eph.2:6) and where He is already present with us by His indwelling and empowering Spirit (Matt.28:20).
This remembering is an understanding under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; by remembering, the believer enters into the depth of the event and sees what could not be seen on an immediate and merely superficial level….This remembering is no mere psychological or intellectual process; it is a pneumatic event [i.e., an event imbued with the Pneuma, or the Holy Spirit]. The Church’s remembering is not merely a private affair; it transcends the sphere of our own human understanding and knowing. It is a being-led by the Holy Spirit, who shows us the connectedness of Scripture, the connection between word and reality, and, in doing that, leads us “into all truth” (pgs.233-234).
I certainly reject transubstantiation concerning Communion, but affirm a real presence of Christ by the Holy Spirit that does not actually involve a changing of the elements of the bread and cup. Christ is truly present in the “remembering” that is empowered by the Holy Spirit…the “remembering” that proclaims Christ Jesus death until he comes again (1 Cor.11:26).  May we “remember” until that glorious Day!