What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus (by Robert Lowry)
I’ve had quite enough blood this year, and it’s only March. I’ve had enough state sanctioned killing. Enough congressional betrayal for coin. I’ve had enough violent words calling for more blood. Enough crowds demanding imprisonment. I’ve had enough blood. And yet, this time of year we Christians revel in the blood. The blood that flows, giving life to an unquenchable thirst for more blood. There is so much blood, and I just want to get away from the violence.
This Holy Week (the week that remembers Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, his last meal, betrayal, death and resurrection) I find myself wandering alone, away from the crowds shouting “Hosannas” in Jerusalem city. I find myself wandering the streets of Bethlehem, thinking about Jesus’s blood in the backwater town of his birth, rather than the city of his death.
It’s an eerie feeling, wandering around an empty city. There is no crowd here at Eastertide. No twinkling lights to warm a now empty manger. No wary travelers to commiserate with. The child is not here. His family has long since fled. So, why am I here instead of taking my place with the crowd in Jerusalem as I have so may years before? Why can I not get past Bethlehem?
The obvious answer is, I failed Lent this year. That’s how the rules work, right? Fail your Lenten discipline, and it’s all a hollow bunny from there- expect an empty Easter.
… But this year it’s not as simple as that.
I think it’s something to do with the site of Bethlehem as a prayer for resurrection. It’s here that Mary had her baby. It’s here that our life began. Not on the cross in Jerusalem, but here, in Bethlehem. This is the site where God enters the world in full humanity. It is this blood that saves.
Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow…. We often forget the blood of birth. The act of bringing babies into the world is no pristine thing. Birth is messy. There is blood. Often times, lots of blood. The blood at the Nativity is Jesus’s blood. But this is also Mary’s blood. They are two inseparable liquids forming one pool. Mary and her baby; one body contracting apart to become two. This is the intimacy God and woman chose; an intimacy unmatched by any other possible physical relationship. This is Bethlehem. This is hallow ground. At Bethlehem, God is no longer a distant observer, but one enfleshed in the same stuff of life that consumes the most intimate spaces of humanity.
The difference between the blood of Jerusalem and the blood of Bethlehem is one of intimacy.
When I witness Jesus on the cross, it is always from the ground. Only he performs the work being done. Mary too watches and cannot help her son. Surely this detachment, this spectatorship, is in itself an act of violence. It is the very thing Jesus’s body, the Incarnation, protests against. God and humanity are not meant to be separated.
The fact is this: The cross does not save. The cross was an act of violence, and violence is never salvific. Rather, it’s the one on the cross that saves. There is a tendency to give praise for violence on Good Friday, as if it is brutality that saves us. This is a lie. The seduction of violence as a way to life is exactly what the Incarnation protests against.
Today, with so much blood still in the streets, we must remember the cross does not save us. It’s the one on the cross that matters. God, putting God’s self between the beloved and the violence of the world to say, “No more. You no longer have to choose death.”
This Good Friday, I’ll be remembering Christ’s death from the place of his birth. It’s by the blood of this babe that we are saved. May we find our resurrection in the place of Incarnation- of Emmanuel- God with us.
*Inspired by the lectures of Dr. Willie Jennings.