Perhaps like me, you’ve had the brave idea to read the Bible from the beginning with young children. If so, you’ve hit a lot of rocky material long before reaching Exodus 24. There is infidelity, incest, rape, sacrifice, near-sacrifice, murder, the flood, plagues, and a hill of foreskins. Exodus 24 might seem pretty understated after all that. Moses and the elders draw near to God, pledging that they will obey all that God has commanded. Then, they offer sacrifices. Half the blood Moses dashes on the altar; the other half he dashes on the elders. “See the blood of the covenant!”
For many North American Christians, the concept of blood is relegated to hospital shows or gory HBO dramas. But never for worship; never for promise-making. Perhaps with the exception of childbirth and war, our relationships with one another are remarkably bloodless. And, let’s face it, technology has even made it possible for the bloodshed of war to resemble video games, especially with the introduction of drones.
For all that our hymns reduce blood to metaphor, we inherit a bloody tradition. We inherit the Passover. Blood painted on doorposts saved the lives of firstborn sons. Sacrificial blood in this Exodus passage touches the bodies of covenantal people. As we see here, a tradition of following God has everything to do with life and death. Blood goes on the altar and on the people. It cannot be a mistake that blood was spilled when Jesus died, or that he bore the scars even in His resurrected, perfected body. And surely, the call to follow Jesus as living sacrifices has everything to do with life and death.
Life and death are intricately interwoven. If we miss the fact that Jesus died in gruesome and ritualistic fashion before he rose – that blood spilled out of his side in order that death might be conquered and that we might be restored – then we miss this dramatic call to be sealed in covenantal relationship with God.
“See the blood of the covenant.”
This story in Exodus, though baffling and bewildering, concludes with an incredible demonstration of grace. The elders saw the God of Israel – and God let them live. They beheld God; then, they ate and drank. A tiny glimpse of kingdom come, commemorated and celebrated with a shared meal.
Generations later, followers of Jesus ate breakfast on the beach with the resurrected Jesus; I can only imagine their awe and wonder. They had seen Jesus crucified. They had seen his shed blood. In their wonder and covenantal faithfulness, they committed to follow Jesus. “See the blood of the covenant.” See and wonder. Commemorate and celebrate at the table.