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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - The Lifeblood of God

Robert Barron - The Lifeblood of God

Robert Barron - The Lifeblood of God
TOPICS: Blood of Jesus

Peace be with you. Friends, we’ve come today to this wonderful feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. But the full title of this feast is the Solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Christ. I wonder at times if we put a hyper-stress on the Body of the Lord, and we don't talk enough about his Blood. And I'll tell you, the readings for today are practically dripping in blood. So I want to spend a little time with this great motif. They say if we went back in a time machine to the ancient world, we'd be surprised by many things. But one thing we'd be particularly surprised by was the prevalence of animal sacrifice.

Now, maybe some who live in a rural setting have an experience of an animal being put to death, but probably most of us in the Western world have little experience of that. We’d probably be a little bit shocked by seeing an animal slaughtered before us. But it was a very commonplace thing in the ancient world, especially in a religious context. The offering of a bloody sacrifice to the gods or to God was just part and parcel of ancient religious life. And it runs right through the Scriptures, including and especially the Scriptures’ understanding of the death of Jesus. So it's very important for us, I think, to understand what's going on here. Here's a first basic idea. For the Bible, blood is life. Lifeblood. To offer blood was to offer life, to give one's very essence. What's really interesting is when we talk about not just our offering of blood but of God's offering of blood, God's offering of his own life. But I'll get there.

Let's go right to our first reading, which is from the twenty-fourth chapter of the book of Exodus. Might I recommend everybody, take a look at these readings. Get out your Bibles today and take a look at these readings. Exodus 24. Moses now has presented the Commandments. He's presented the great covenant. And now it's the moment for the people and God to seal the covenant they've made. Watch how they do it. "He [Moses] sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the LORD". Now listen. Moses then "took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar". And then he sprinkled the blood upon the people.

Now, what's going on here as he sprinkles blood on the altar and then on the people? It's an exchange of life: the lifeblood of God and the lifeblood of his people. Think of someone becoming a blood brother, when you’d share blood with each other. That's the powerful symbolism going on here. Now, this event set the tone for much of Israelite liturgical life, which centered around the sacrifice of animals. Think of the covenant now that God strikes with David. It's sealed, if you want, in a thousand years of animal sacrifice that took place in the temple that was built by David’s son Solomon. They say that you could smell the temple long before you saw it. So as you were approaching Jerusalem, you smelled it. What you smelled was the burning of the flesh of animals, and you smelled the blood, because it was something like a slaughterhouse of animals. The blood being offered to the Lord.

Now, the most prominent sacrifice that took place in the temple happened on Yom Kippur, on the Day of Atonement, the one day a year when the high priest…and mind you, a priest is someone who performs a sacrifice. That's why (and I'll get there in a second) why I'm called a priest and not just a minister, not just a preacher of the word but a priest. Priests offered sacrifice. Well, on the Day of Atonement, this one day, the high priest was allowed access to the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was kept. It was seen as in practically a literal sense the dwelling place of Yahweh. So sacred that no one could approach it, except on that one day. In that Holy of Holies, he’d place upon the scapegoat, symbolically, the sins of Israel. And then the scapegoat would be sent out into the desert to die, bearing with him, symbolically, the sins of the people. But the high priest would slaughter another animal, and he would sprinkle the blood around the Holy of Holies in the manner of Moses.

And then also in the manner of Moses, he would come out from the Holy of Holies, passing through the curtain that separated that place from the rest of the temple proper, and he’d sprinkle the people there with the blood. What was happening on Yom Kippur, what was happening on the Day of Atonement, but a bloody sacrifice, which symbolized the gift of the people's life, their expiation, the pouring out of their hearts, and also, also, the pouring out of God's own life. God's lifeblood being poured out. Okay. So this was central to Israelite life for the thousand years of the temple. Now, with that in mind, Moses sprinkling the people and the altar, the high priest on the Day of Atonement, now we're ready to read our second reading for today, which is from the marvelous Letter to the Hebrews.

Now, for a long time, people thought that St. Paul himself wrote this letter. Most scholars today say that's not true. But whoever wrote this letter was somebody who was well acquainted with the sacrifices of the temple, well acquainted with exactly what I've just been describing. Listen now, I'm in Hebrews chapter 9, "But when Christ came as a high priest", they're thinking Yom Kippur right away, Day of Atonement, "of the good things that have come ... he entered once for all into the Holy Place". Again, there's Yom Kippur. He's going into the Holy of Holies. But listen: "not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption".

See, a Jewish audience hearing this, they knew exactly what he's talking about. He's reading Jesus' sacrifice on the cross as not just a Roman execution, not just this poor guy having come to the end of his life in a tragic way, but rather, he read it as a great act of temple sacrifice, Jesus acting as our mediator on our own behalf, offering his blood as an expiation for sin. Just as the blood of these calves and goats have been poured out, now this blood of Christ himself. But then watch everybody, watch. On the cross, when blood and water flow from the side of Christ, as it were splashing on those who were standing by, what was that? Well see, he's implying it here. Not just the human blood offered in expiation for sin, but God's blood. God's blood offered to us.

Now, you remember in the Gospels when that little curious detail about the curtain in the temple being torn from top to bottom at Jesus' death. What's being signaled there? Well, not just, "Wow, isn't that amazing? An amazing thing happened". That's the high priest now coming out from the Holy of Holies with not the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, to be sprinkled upon now the whole world. That's the blood of Christ. Our blood? Yes, indeed. Christ is truly human. God's blood, because he's truly divine. Okay. With that background, all of that, we then look at the Gospel, which is the account of the institution narrative so-called, when Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper. "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out on your behalf". That’s all temple language. That's all the language of blood sacrifice, and Jesus anticipating there what he would do the next day.

Now, a last step for all of us on this wonderful Solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Jesus. What is the Mass? "Oh, a chance for us to get together and fellowship, and we sing together. We remember Jesus". Ah, come on. If that's all it is, forget it. Who needs it? That's like the Abraham Lincoln society getting together to remember old Abe Lincoln. No, no; what's the Mass? Well look, as I mentioned, I come to Mass vested not as a minister simply, not as a doctor or teacher simply, but I'm wearing the robes of a temple priest. I'm called not minister or doctor; I'm called priest. Now, as a bishop, I'm a high priest, which is why I wear the miter, which you can find described, by the way, in the book of Exodus, as the high priest does his work in the temple. Because the work I'm going to do at Mass is not simply remembering what a great guy Jesus was.

"We're just having a nice little symbolic get together". No, no, no. Acting "in persona Christi," in the very person of Christ, now realizing, in an unbloody sacramental manner, the death of Jesus. Look: offering to the Father the Blood of the Son. See what is that moment, now, Catholics, when you go to Mass, and you're witnessing the priest or the bishop elevating the chalice, what is that? There's the Blood of Christ offered as expiation for our sins, yes, indeed. Think of the priest there as like the high priest on the Day of Atonement. But he's going into the Holy of Holies not with the blood of goats and calves but with the very Blood of Christ. But then there's more. We don't simply perform the consecration, then we all go home. No, no, no. What happens?

The priest now bearing the Blood of Jesus comes down from the altar, comes out from the sanctuary. What's that? The high priest on the Day of Atonement, coming out from the Holy of Holies. To do what? Not just sprinkle the people with Blood, but now to offer the Blood of Christ to be drunk, to be consumed. You see, on the one side, the offer of an expiation, the offer of a sacrifice because of our sins. But then on the other hand, here's the lifeblood of God being offered to his holy people. What does this effect, this expiation and then offering of the lifeblood of Christ? It effects our salvation. That's how we're saved, how we're reconciled unto God, by this great priestly act, which is re-presented sacramentally at every Mass.

Can I invite you? Can I invite you now, Catholics, especially, now listening to me? When you come to Mass, realize what you're doing. Realize this incredibly rich and loamy background to what we're doing at the Mass. Go all the way back to Moses sprinkling blood on the altar, on the people. Go all the way back to the high priest on the day of Yom Kippur offering the blood for the expiation of people's sins, and then coming out and sprinkling the people with the blood. Go right back to the Letter of the Hebrews. We have the true high priest who goes into the Holy of Holies not made by human hands but the Holy of Holies in heaven, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood. All of that informs what we do, what takes place at every Mass. And that's where this feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus is meant to bring us. And God bless you.
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