Friday, August 21, 2009

Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

Long before I became a Catholic, I began wearing a crucifix around my neck. That might not seem unusual to some. Many people wear a crucifix. But as an evangelical Protestant who, for the previous 30 years associated the crucifix with Catholicism, wearing one probably seemed to my friends a theological faux pas.

My decision, however, had nothing to do with differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. It was rooted, instead, in a growing sense of adoration for the Son of God who permitted Himself to be nailed to a cross and spill His most precious blood for me.

That image in my mind of His crucifixion made the empty cross for me seem sterile. Bloodless. Tidy. Friday's cross was anything but tidy. It was dirty, rough, hard and splintered. On those blood-soaked beams Jesus suffered -- suffered -- a torturous and labored death to pay for my sins.

St. Paul told his readers in Ephesus that although they were at one time excluded from God's household and without hope of eternal life, they were now brought "near by the blood of Christ."

I am sure the Ephesians wondered how Jesus' blood could effect such a sea-change in their relationship with the eternal God. But St. Paul's Jewish readers would not have had that confusion. They would have immediately understood the God-ordained relationship of blood to sin, forgiveness and reconciliation.

As early as the third chapter of Genesis, when our first parents sinned in the Garden and sewed leaves together to hide behind, God killed an animal which, many theologians believe, initiated the first blood sacrifice to cover sin. Indeed, the entire Biblical system of atonement revolved around the blood sacrifice of animals (for example, see here and here) and foreshadowed the sacrifice of God's perfect Lamb -- Jesus -- whose blood "takes away the sin of the world" (see John 1:29).

That is why St. Paul could offer hope to his Gentile -- and Jewish -- readers that they could now be reconciled to God. Their sins no longer would separate them from their eternal heavenly home. Through their faith in the efficacy of Jesus' blood they -- and we -- could be justified (declared by God as without guilt). Christ's blood redeems from the punishment of death everyone who comes to God for forgiveness. It is Christ's blood that makes peace between us and God. Jesus' blood cleanses our conscience, washes our sins and sets us apart for His kingdom. And it is by Christ's blood that we overcome Satan.

St. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue with the Lord (page 260), records these words from God: You do not see how damned you are because the horns of your pride have blinded you. But you will see it at the moment of death, and then you will not be able to take refuge in any virtue of yours, because you have none." The Lord then warns her that her only refuge is to "trust in the blood and in My mercy." And God adds a further warning, "But let no one be so foolhardy, nor you so blind, as to wait for that last moment."

Pastor and hymnist Robert Lowry wrote: What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The Ephesians were unaware, at first, of the full ramifications of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. But soon they learned, where once they had no hope, Christ's death brought them hope. Where once they were separated from the life of God because of their sins, Christ's blood brought them eternal life as it washed away those sins.
And the really exciting part about all of this -- the shouting part about all of this -- is, what Christ's blood did for the Ephesians, it is able to do for everyone today. The blood of the eternal Son of God will never, ever, lose its power to save.
Questions for Reflection:
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him . . . Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance (para 1432).
How can you better fix your eyes on Christ's blood? Is it simply a matter of reflecting on a crucifix, or does fixing our eyes on Jesus require something deeper than that?
2. Reread the paragraph above from St. Catherine's Dialogue. In what are you trusting for your salvation?
3. What does it mean to you to trust in the blood of Christ?

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