If I had to name the biggest struggle of my present life, I’d have to say keeping up with my laundry. On any given day, I go through clergy clothes, gym clothes, yardwork clothes, and just regular clothes. Then there’s the days that are just like that plus a fire call (gotta change those clothes), and up, a pastoral call late at night, and so another set of clergy clothes. It can all add up pretty quick. I think often of the Seinfeld quote about laundry: “Now they show you how detergents take out bloodstains, a pretty violent image there. I think if you’ve got a T-shirt with a bloodstain all over it, maybe laundry isn’t your biggest problem.”
Blood is usually something we need to wash away, but as you all surely know, blood is the toughest of stains. Surely everyone has always known this, and so it always seemed strange to me that in the Revelation to John, the angel describes the saints in heaven as those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
I always get to thinking these things not necessarily when I’m drowning in laundry, but on the last weekend of our Church School year, when at least of few of our awesome kids will receive their first holy communion.
At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the means of re-membering Him and His sacrifice, and the means of literally becoming more holy, more God, by taking in His Body and Blood. “This is my blood of the new covenant,” He said, reminding them and us that a covenant is not an agreement cemented by a handshake, but a bond written in blood. They will receive the Blood of the Lamb of God, the lifeblood of God, for the first of hopefully many, many times.
“Such thoughts help me appreciate the meaning of “blood” in the Bible. The ancient world had a way of seeing the obvious: blood carries the stuff of life. When an animal loses its blood the life goes out of it. It made sense to reverence blood as the carrier and, therefore, a primal symbol of life. Thus, offering animal blood in sacrificial ritual could symbolize the acknowledgment that life is a gift from God. Everything that modern hematology has to say about the function of blood as carrier of (oxygen and) nutrients and components of our complex immune system only enhances our sense of blood as the stuff of life.”
So I guess the question becomes, what does our life look like when it’s washed by and awash in the Blood of Christ?
Recently, my mother texted me a picture of me as a baby. I was in the arms of one Father G. P. Mellick Belshaw, then Rector of St. George’s Church Rumson, and soon to be the 9th Bishop of New Jersey. I was born into the Episcopal Church, and so born into the tradition we hold so dear, the sacramental tradition, in which we are nourished, strengthened, emboldened by the Eucharist week by week, day by day. I didn’t know anything else until I went to Elon College, and found the Episcopal Church there to be, well, less than edifying. I ended up going to the church that was headed up by my football chaplain, Bob Disher, who was the lead pastor at St. Mark’s UCC Reformed Church, Burlington, NC. Bob Disher could preach; he was the kind of guy you could listen to for 45 minutes and wonder why he wrapped things up. But St. Mark’s was UCC Reformed (and is now a megachurch, standing on its own) – theirs was not a sacramental tradition. For the first time in my life I felt it – I felt what it was like to not receive the Body and Blood of Jesus on a regular basis, and I didn’t like it. I had taken it for granted, as kids are wont to do, and like the awesome band Cinderella once sang, “Don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone.”
Point being, great sermons have their place and I don’t regret a moment of listening to Bob Disher’s, but nothing – let me say it again – nothing – takes the place of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. The very life of God is given to us, somehow and beyond our comprehension, so that we have life, the true life that comes from knowing that our worth is tied not to what we do or to what happens to us, but tied to the relationship we have with the God who made all things.
Because we have infinite worth in Christ, we can change our focus to the well being of others and of the world around us. In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis wrote: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” One of the great things about receiving the Eucharist week by week, day by day, in being washed by and awash in the Body and Blood of the Lord, we learn to recognize what our Lord looks like in ourselves and in our neighbor.
I pray such a thing for our kids who will receive for the first time today, and for all of us.
 Dennis Hamm, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/BodyBloodB060318/theword_hamm.html