“Blood of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:3-11; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Mark 14:12-26)
“Blood” and “covenant” go together in the Bible pretty much all the time. Whenever God establishes a covenant with people, generally it is sealed with blood. And tonight is no exception. In fact, tonight is the culmination of this connection between blood and covenant. It’s Holy Thursday, the night in which our Lord Jesus Christ establishes a covenant with us and says, “This is my ‘Blood of the Covenant.’”
I suppose we should start by explaining what this word “covenant” means, biblically speaking. In the Bible, a covenant is a relationship that God establishes with people. God takes the initiative. It is his doing, to reveal himself to man, to take a people unto himself. “I shall be their God, and they shall be my people,” that’s how a familiar covenant refrain goes.
You see, the thing is, after the fall into sin, man by nature does not know God. Man was out of relationship with God. On the outs, blinded, not knowing God as he really is, lost, and groping around in the dark. That is man’s natural state, by virtue of our sinful nature.
So if there is going to be a relationship between God and man, a right relationship, God is the one who is going to have to take the initiative. We would not know God otherwise. And God is the one who will have to take the action to deal with our sin, to atone for our sin, because surely there is nothing we could do to make up for it.
And so the inherent biblical connection between “blood” and “covenant.” “Covenant” is God reaching out to establish a relationship with man, and “blood” is how he does it. It’s how he seals the covenant. For “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”
It has been this way ever since the beginning. When Adam and Eve fell into sin and fell out of a right relationship with God, what did God do right away to restore the relationship? Blood and covenant. God established a covenant of promise with mankind, promising that a Savior would arise from the seed of the woman, who would crush the serpent’s head. And that promise then was sealed with blood, as God clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals, which had to be killed for that purpose. Adam and Eve tried to cover their own shame with fig leaves, but that could not do it. Only God could cover their shame and guilt, and he did it through the shedding of blood, providing substitutes to die in the place of the sinners.
Centuries later, the Lord God revealed himself to Abram, and established a covenant of promise with him. The Lord would bless Abram and make of him a great nation, and all the families of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. Yes, that covenant too was sealed with blood, circumcision serving as the sign of the covenant.
Abraham’s descendants fell into slavery in Egypt, but the Lord remembered his covenant and brought them out with a mighty hand. The Passover was how the Lord brought them out, and the Passover involved blood. The blood of the lamb, spread on the doorposts, was the sign marking the homes to be passed over by the angel of death.
The people of Israel come to Mount Sinai. The Lord makes a covenant with the people, mediated through Moses. The Lord gives them a special way of life they are to follow in the Promised Land, the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. The people respond, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” And the covenant was sealed with blood.
Of course, the problem was, the Israelites didn’t do all that the Lord had spoken. They sinned, time and time again. They broke the covenant, the relationship the Lord had graciously established with them.
And haven’t we all? You and I, we are that faithless and fickle people. God has made us his own people in Holy Baptism. That is God reaching out to make us his children, taking us to be his own. But how have we responded? By not listening to God’s Word, time and time again, just like the Israelites. We have sinned, and we deserve to be cut off from the covenant.
But God, in his grace and mercy, has provided for us a new covenant, and once again it is sealed with blood. Only it is not the blood of beasts. Our Passover is not the blood of a lamb spread on a doorpost. It is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, shed on a cross. Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Our forgiveness comes at a cost, the greatest cost, the most precious price indeed. It is the holy precious blood of God’s own Son, shed for us–shed for you–sealing this, the fulfillment of all covenants.
Christ sheds his blood on the cross of Calvary, winning our forgiveness. He distributes this very blood to us in the sacramental meal he establishes on this night. He blesses the bread and says, “Take; this is my body.” He gives them his cup and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” And so it is. Jesus’ words do what they say.
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation–a koinonia, a communion–in the blood of Christ?” Yes, it is. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation–a koinonia, a communion–in the body of Christ?” Yes, it is. Jesus says so.
And so tonight you receive the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Your sins are forgiven; they will not kill you and damn you for eternity. Your Savior gives you his body and his blood, and these will give you life and save you for eternity.
When God established a covenant with Israel and sealed it with blood, there was a meal to go with it: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
When Christ established the new covenant and sealed it with his blood, there was a meal to go with it. It is this meal you receive tonight, the Lord’s Supper. And this meal, in turn, points ahead to another meal still to come. That will be the heavenly banquet, the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which will have no end. There we will see God. There we will feast in a city with streets of gold, clear as crystal. There we shall behold God, and eat and drink in his presence. Tonight we receive a foretaste of that feast to come.
And it is all because a Lamb went uncomplaining forth: Christ, the Lamb of God, willingly going the way of the cross for you, sealing the once-and-for-all covenant of promise with his own most precious blood.