Sunday, April 12, 2020

oh the blood (plasma) of Jesus

Our son read to us on Friday evening as we tried to salvage some sense of sacredness from (another) long day together. I want to be actively passing on the faith I've inherited to my children but there seems to be no manual in how to do that well. We passed the "Jesus Storybook Bible" around the table and each took turns reading about the last night of Jesus' life. My son (he's 9) landed on the words describing Jesus' last moments, hanging on a Roman cross, symbol of shame, humiliation and the formidable power of empire. Sally Lloyd-Jones' interpretation of the event read in my son's mostly Australian accent was this:

"The full force of the storm of God's fierce anger at sin was coming down. On his own Son. Instead of his people. It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin. Then Jesus shouted out in a loud voice, "It is finished!" And it was. He had done it. Jesus had rescued the whole world."

A discussion quickly ensued around the table as my daughter (she's 8) interrupted saying she didn't think that was true. God didn't kill Jesus because he was angry with us. We talked about the Roman empire killing Jesus and the religious people handing him over. We talked about how the Jesus Storybook Bible is lovely in many parts and it's an interpretation. There's more than a few ways to think about Jesus' death in the New Testament as attested to in church history and I want my kids to wrestle with all of them. 

Brad Jersak writes in his book "A More Christ-like God: A More Beautiful Gospel" about conflicting understandings of Jesus' death throughout church history. Two examples are God as judge versus God as Great Physician. Referring to a view similar to the one we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible, Brad writes, "This approach imagines the story of Jesus as a courtroom drama, where sin is law-breaking that needs to be punished and God is the judge whose justice must be satisfied." Brad believes there's a more ancient understanding of redemption. "...we have been calling it the restorative theory or healing gospel or even therapeutic version. In this version sin is not law-breaking behaviour, but, rather, a fatal disease. The sin condition is a suffering of our souls that is rooted much deeper than thought or deed...In this analogy, more of a hospital or a hospice than a courtroom, God comes not as a punishing judge, but as the Great Physician who would heal our brokenness and rescue us from the curse of death."

In this Covid-19 world we find ourselves in, more than we need a judge to pardon us, we need a doctor who can heal us.

Doctors around the world are realising that the blood plasma of people who have been infected by the virus but were asymptomatic or recovered well could be a key to treating those who are suffering. "Take the blood of people who’ve recovered, let the red blood cells clot and remove them, and transfuse what’s left—the “serum”—into people in the early stages of the disease. (You have to match their blood types.) Not only does this process ease symptoms and potentially save lives, it accelerates the path to immunity, like something in between a drug and a vaccine. In addition to measles, it was used against polio, mumps, and even the 1918 influenza pandemic." 

Christians this weekend remember our story, of Jesus showing us the clearest picture of God, choosing love all the way to his death. Could this convalescent plasma treatment of covid-19 give us a new understanding of Jesus' work on the cross? I don't believe God needed Jesus' blood as a sacrifice to be able to forgive our collective sins. I do believe that Jesus' life and teachings of nonviolence and love for neighbour are the best the world had ever seen and when applied by groups of people are strangely powerful. 

As much as I believe Jesus' teachings, it’s also not enough for me. I'm too unwell, too afflicted by disease, and I see that. I've been colonised by white supremacy, greed, the myth of redemptive violence and the Myth of the American Dream; I was raised on the stories and symbols of empire. There's something in Jesus' body and blood that my body and blood desperately need so that I can be made well. 

What if Jesus gained the antibodies to greed and violence by fully following the way of God in his context? Jesus faced all the temptations to self-preserve and take up arms and use people for his own gains that we do, and he resisted all the way to his own death. When God raised Jesus from the dead Jesus defeated all the diseases of empire and sin. He fully recovered, firstborn from the dead, leading the way for the rest of us. Maybe in Jesus' blood is the antibody that can heal the world. Jesus' is offering us his blood plasma, just a mustard seed's worth, that can be planted in our bodies and imaginations. Once it starts growing in us, it won't stop. (And I don't think this has much to do with your religion; many people who call themselves "Christian" have rejected the antibodies that Jesus has offered.)

It's not just  Jesus' blood that heals us, it's the new way of living together that he inaugurated, a new ethic of justice, forgiveness and mercy, a world without border walls, a world full of neighbours and friends. I need help to stay on this narrow, rocky path because there's so much gravitational pull in me towards the wide road of empire. That's why I gather with our little church multiple times a month, breaking bread with a few sips of wine, letting ourselves be nourished again (and again, and again) by the body and blood of Jesus. 

"Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore. 
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. 
He is able, He is able, 
He is willing, doubt no more.”

- 1759, Joseph Hart


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