Speaking to the Soul: Washed in the blood

by

Warning for visceral description of blood

I’ve never been a big fan of the book of Revelation and it has been years since I read the entire thing from start to finish.  However, it does crop up in the liturgical calender from time to time and this time it is Revelation 7:13-17

As I was reading though the lessons, the phrase “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” sprang out at me and I really though about what it would be like to wash something in blood and have faith that it would come out, not only clean, but purified.

Fresh blood is warm and sticky.  It has a distinctive smell that can drive animals into fear or frenzy. Dried blood leaves indelible stains. White cloth dipped in blood will, in the normal course of events, be permanently marred.

So what does it mean to be washed in blood as a visceral experience?  Would that metaphor have more power for people who had regular experience of both animal sacrifice and killing and eating their own stock?

I, for one, rarely eat meat and what little I do eat, I buy from a grocery store when it has been drained of blood and prepared for prompt use.  I have never hunted, and the only animals whose death I have witnessed have been well-loved pets (and most of those from old age). The most blood I have experience with is my own, shed either through menstruation or by accident.

In the realm of metaphor, most of what I have seen comes from the communion table where wine subs in for the Blood of Christ.  Communion wine might be dry or sweet, but it tastes noting like the salty blood from an inadvertent paper-cut and has none of blood’s proverbial thickness.

In thinking about the characteristics of blood as metaphor, in my thinking, it stands for loss and suffering; for separation and impurity; and for sacrifice and death.

The idea that one could take a garment, or a person, wash them in blood, and have them come out clean says to me that these are people who have suffered and lost, who have been immersed in suffering, who have had pain stick to them like dried blood; and yet, they have come though the other side of suffering clean and dry, their robes made white, their pain relieved.

As the psalm for the day says:

Restore, O Lord, our fortunes

like freshets in the Negeb.

They who sow in tears

in glad song will reap.

He walks along and weeps,

the bearer of the seed bag.

He will surely come in with glad song

bearing in his sheaves.

(Psalm 126:4-6 from “The Book of Psalms” by Robert Alter)


 

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything.  She spends a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life and her relationship to God and it all spills out in the essays she writes. She recently embarked on a new adventure with her husband, supporting him as he launches Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company

 

Image: “Waldburg-Gebetbuch 047 detail” by Anonymous Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

The Apocalypse is a fascinating book. One of its most interesting characteristics is the author's draw on the literary content and style of the prophets including blessed but bizarre Ezekiel.

The Apocalypse has gotten a lot of bad press as a result of its use by marginal fundamentalist groups. They are not happy just to be washed in the blood of the Lamb but seem to have a need to roll around in it and splash all over everyone else.

Rev. 7: 9-17 is the second reading for one of the most important days in the church year, All Saints Day ( RCL, year A). Rev. 21 is used for the same major festival in year B.

In an article in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Adela Yarbro Collins notes that the imagery of 7:14 is about the transformation of the soiled/sinful to clean/holy in relationship to the death of Jesus as sacrifice. Collins writes,
"The fundamental allusion here seems to be to repentance, conversion, and baptism taken together as a transformation."

The reading reminds me of all those who work to make our world a more just and peaceful place, especially those who do so at cost or risk to themselves. Some of the most powerful advocates for peace have been murdered practitioners of non-violence.

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