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(Editor’s note: Nancy Kennedy is on vacation this week. This column, one of her favorites, ran in 2005.)
On May 30, 1978, the blood of Jesus cleansed me from all my sin.
Actually, that happened 2,000 years before that, but I didn’t know it until that day.
As my Jesus-anniversary present this year, I bought myself a CD of old hymns set to new music. It’s called “For All the Saints,” the third Indelible Grace project. (See www.igracemusic.com)
One of my favorite songs is “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder,” written by John (“Amazing Grace”) Newton in 1774. I don’t know how the original tune goes, but I like the new one. It’s bouncy and catchy and the refrain is simple:
“He has washed us with his blood. He has washed us with his blood. He has washed us with his blood. He presents our souls to God.”
I’ve been going around Wal-Mart and the grocery store and the newsroom singing, “He has washed us with his blood ….”
Some of the other songs on the CD use words like: “Love has redeemed his sheep with blood;” “Mercy speaks by Jesus’ blood;” “Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.”
All that blood talk got me thinking about outsiders and aliens, those not familiar with church lingo. Years ago my friend Cheryl Peterson and I were accosted on a Southern California beach by a Bible-wielding man who asked if we’d been “washed in the blood.”
We’d been slathered with Coppertone tanning oil, but frankly weren’t interested in a blood bath. We ignored him and he went on down the beach accosting other sun worshipers.
Now I know about the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7), but I often wonder what other people think. It’s an odd concept — blood as a cleaning agent. If I cut myself and bleed on the carpet, it will leave a stain, not a clean spot. You don’t dump a cupful of blood into your washing machine, and if you were to take a tree branch, dip it in blood and shake it out onto a crowd of people, they wouldn’t shout “Hooray! Do it again!” They’d shout, but not “Hooray.”
But God being God decided that the sins of humans could only be cleansed by blood. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
A few years ago, Christianity Today ran a three-part story, written by surgeon Paul Brand, about the life-giving power of blood, beginning with its “miracle” cleansing properties. Brand detailed the process of blood traveling throughout the body, simultaneously feeding each cell with oxygen and absorbing waste products (carbon dioxide, urea and uric acid), then delivering the toxic waste chemicals to organs that can dump them outside the body.
“Blood sustains life by carrying away the chemical by-products that would interfere with it,” he wrote. “This then is the (condensed) medical explanation of blood’s cleansing property.”
He went on to write about sin and forgiveness. He said we tend to think of sin as a “private list of grievances that happen to irk God…but even a casual reading of the Old Testament shows that sin is a blockage, a paralyzing toxin that restricts our realization of full humanity.”
Forgiveness, he said, “cleanses the wasteful products, sins, that impede true health, just as blood cleanses harmful metabolites.”
He said from a biological, physiological perspective, blood as a cleansing agent makes perfect sense. “The Creator chose a theological symbol with an exact analog in the medical world,” he wrote.
That still doesn’t explain why God chose blood as the only acceptable sin-cleanser — as offensive and icky as it is — but he did. Maybe Bible scholars and theologians know, but most likely they don’t. No one knows why God does anything and any explanations would only be speculations.
For me, it’s enough to know that God is God; therefore, he gets to make the rules. And if he says the answer to “What can wash away my sin?” is “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” then that’s the way it is.
I’m just glad that on May 30, 1978, I believed for the first time that it did.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.