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Center for Action and Contemplation

Holy Blood

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

This Is My Body

Holy Blood
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

As if eating his body weren’t enough, Jesus pushes us in even further and scarier directions by adding the symbolism of intoxicating wine as he lifts the cup and speaks over all of suffering humanity, “This is my blood.” Jesus then dares to say, “Drink me, all of you!” It’s utterly scandalous language that has been domesticated by overhearing.

During Jesus’ time, contact with blood would typically mean ritual impurity for a Jew. How daring and shocking it was for Jesus to turn the whole tradition of impure blood upside down and make blood holy! And what an affirmation of the divine image within women—whose menstruation was often considered unclean.

One of the things I’ve learned from studying male initiation rites around the world is that startling, vivid rituals can have great psychic effect. Some examples of these rituals include symbolic drowning, digging one’s own grave, marking with ashes, and even the now outdated slap that bishops used to give at Confirmation—all intended to shock us into realization.

There’s a real difference between mere ceremonies and life-changing rituals, as my friend Fr. Jim Clarke taught me. [1] Ceremonies normally confirm and celebrate the status quo and avoid the shadow side of things. For example, on July 4 in the United States, we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and parades to show we’re “proud to be an American,” while never acknowledging colonists’ genocide of Indigenous Peoples, the enslavement of Africans, how our over-consumption has contributed to planetary devastation, and other ways our “freedom” has cost others. We are not allowed to note these things without being considered unpatriotic or even rebellious. True sacred ritual is different than mere ceremony because it offers an alternative universe, where the shadow is named and drawn into the light. Sadly, most groups avoid real life-changing and healing rituals—even the church.

While many Eucharistic or communion services usually seem rote and ceremonial, being fully present to its symbolism can and should startle us. While the experience of eating Jesus’ body and blood can be comforting, it should also be deeply discomforting. Many mystics and liberation theologians have recognized that by inviting us to drink wine as his blood, Jesus is calling us to live in bodily solidarity “with the blood of every person whose blood has been unjustly shed on this earth, from the blood of Abel the Holy to the blood of Zechariah” (Matthew 23:35). These are the first and last murders noted in the Hebrew Bible. In the act of drinking the blood of Christ at this Holy Meal, we are consciously uniting with all unjust suffering in the world, from the beginning of time till its end. Wherever there was and is suffering, there is the empathy and healing justice of God—and we are joining with God insofar as we can. “This is all my blood!” Jesus is saying and we are agreeing.

I can see why Christians celebrate the Eucharist so often. This message is such a shock to the psyche, such a challenge to our pride and individualism, that it takes a lifetime of practice and much vulnerability for it to sink in—as the pattern of every thing, not just the bread and wine. Every thing is in Christ and Christ is in every thing. There is only one suffering, and it is the suffering of God. There is only one love, and it is all the love of God.

[1] See Jim Clarke, Creating Rituals: A New Way of Healing for Everyday Life (Paulist Press: 2011).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 133-134, 135.

Image credit: Eucharistic Bread, painting in the early Christian catacomb of Saint Callixtus, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Eucharist is an encounter of the heart, knowing Presence through our own offered presence. In the Eucharist, we move beyond mere words or rational thought and go to that place where we don’t talk about the Mystery anymore; we begin to chew on it. Jesus did not say, “Think about this” or “Stare at this” or even “Worship this.” Instead he said, “Eat this!” —Richard Rohr
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