We all make promises … and we all break them. Yes, we say, we will do X or Y or Z … but find A and B come to hand instead. Some promises we make lightly and in haste and renege on them with hardly a qualm. Other promises gather a life’s hope and commitment to a honed edge so sharp it draws blood when once again we cannot be who we thought we could.
Blood and promises. The ancient habit of blood sacrifice seems a strange way to seal a promise but even so many centuries later we can feel the weight and thrill and solemnity of sloshing around all that blood. The studiers of symbols say blood stands for life but you and I know blood means death and it is death that seals promises. We know it in the schoolyard: cross my heart and hope to die. We know it at the altar: till death us do part.
For a promise to hold there has to be some dying, even if it is just possibilities that have to bite the dust, unborn might-have-beens that never see the light of day. And when a promise doesn’t hold, never could have held, someone, we are sure, will have to pay the price for our pretence.
This is Corpus Christi and it’s all about blood and promises. The blood part stands out—we hear about body and blood all the time—but we have to wonder at the promises being made.
The old covenant promise seems easy: the people make the deal with God—we will do X and Y and Z (though, of course, A and B will come to hand) and seal the promise with gallons of blood—animal blood, thank God. And in the gospel the surface pattern is all the same. On the surface there’s the familiar blood of the Passover lamb spilled to mark the promise of deliverance. And down a level there’s the other lamb, the human lamb, sacrificed to seal the unholy promise that it is better that one man should die for the sake of many people.
But Jesus messes all that up. He refuses to be a lamb led to the slaughter: he takes what someone would do to him—an act of violence—and he turns it round. The meat does something unimaginable: it says yes there will be dying; not on your terms but to seal my promise.
And the promise? God has no desire for sacrifice. God is the one sacrificed. Sacrifice itself is sacrificed, put to death, and drained dry.
We all make promises and we all break them. But we no longer need to pretend we won’t. That’s the promise. And, though it is marked by blood, it’s marked not by death, but life.