TRUE BLOOD: Fantasy vs. Reality
The most famous journalist saying of all time is arguably “if it bleeds, it leads.”
Rolling Stone magazine decided to take that adage literally. The 18 August 2010 cover of Rolling Stone magazine featured a bloody mess and it was a huge hit, creating a big stir, selling lots of copies. Wearing nothing but dripping, smeared, puddling blood, the three young stars of “True Blood” posed in way meant to sell magazines rather than report on the series. “True Blood” is an American television drama series. It premiered on HBO exactly two years ago, on September 7, 2008. (please be careful: you must see this magazine cover before mentioning it in the pulpit. Only you know the sensitivities of your people, and while your people will see this magazine cover at the newsstand, they may not want to see it in church. Only you know how best to deal with controversial issues like the growing nudity and violence in our culture)
“True Blood” is one of a growing number of vampire soap operas, and there are a bumper crop of these teenage-vampire-love-story shows. Anne Rice sold 80 million copies of her “Vampire Chronicles” to boomers and Gen-Xers in the late 70s, 80s, and 90s. But the last five years have belonged to Stephenie Meyer, whose red-hot “Twilight” series reignited vampire-mania among newer generations, especially those twenty and under. The blood-thirsty, blood-sucking “undead” have become the darlings of young adults everywhere. Vampires aren’t creepy, they’re cool. Or in the bad-is-good language of pop culture, “Vampires Suck” (a current movie playing in cinemas everywhere).
In fact, as mere mortals in all these “love stories” come to believe, vampires are “to die for.”
If teens and twenty-somethings are attracted to these blood-smeared sweethearts, their parents and grandparents are notoriously “hemophobic.” We have a tendency to get weak-kneed and wobbily at the mere mention of blood.
Don’t believe me? Want proof?
Check your hymnbook. When was the last time (or first time?) you sang “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood” or “Power In The Blood.” Have you ever even heard “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” or “Oh, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”? Fanny Crosby’s hymn “Redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb” is long forgotten, as is “Nothing but the Blood.” How ironic that the more the most bloody century in history (160 million people died in 20th century wars) was bloodied by a killer blood disease (HIV/AIDS), the more the church became squeamish around blood and even hemophobic. Like the neatly packaged, plastic wrapped meat packets we bring home from the supermarket, any suggestion of sacrificial lifeblood left Christians skittish. Either that or the blood language already had been drained away from the faith. You can even find Bible handbooks and dictionaries with no entry on “blood” in them anywhere (even in the index).
Let’s be real: Vampirism is a religion. It’s a soap opera religion which worships romantic love. It’s a religion that offers salvation and eternal life if only you will sacrifice your all on the altar of romantic love and put your neck on the line. Yes, love hurts. Yes, love sucks. Yes, love causes suffering, pain, agony. But falling head over heels in love with your wounded lover, your addicted abuser (who can’t help himself, after all) is worth the sacrifice.
But wait a minute: It is not just Vampirism that is alive and well.
The ancient religion of Mithraism that competed with Christianity in the first four centuries is also alive and well. The original “blood bath” was a sacred ritual in the Mithras cult, whose elevated god was symbolized by the bull. New initiates into the Mithras cult would stand under the neck of the bull as it was sacrificed. When the animal’s neck was cut, the “new born” member of the cult would be baptized in the lifeblood of the bull as it poured out. In Mithraism, you were washed in the blood of the bull.
Mithraisim is still alive and well . . . on Wall Street. Mithraism revolved around rituals associated with being washed in the blood of bulls. On Wall Street, marketolatry reigns supreme. In this theomarket religion, the Market has become a god. It has all the attributes of a traditional deity. We even refer to it as though it were a living being the Market is “nervous” or “happy” or “skeptical.” It is all-powerful. In ancient times people feared Yahweh’s verdict on what they had done. Nowadays we fear Wall Street’s reaction and what the Market will do next. And when Wall Street went off the wall and collapsed in September 2008, we became penitent and repentant and submissive, and sacrificed everything to feed it what it needed.
Like Vampirists, Mithraists also sacrifice everything on the altar. Except the Mithraic worship is of the bull market. We will give up everything for fortune, for fame, for success. In this consumer culture, where we buy our way into the salvation of brands and experiences, we get drenched in the blood of the bull all the time.
Putting these two bulls of Vampirism and Mithraism into the pen of today’s youth culture together is like putting two bulls into a pen with a cow in heat.
You can’t escape getting washed in the blood of something. The only question is whether that something will be the blood of bulls, the blood of vampires, or the blood of the Lamb.
There is no getting around sacrifice — life feeds on life. Even if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, living things must consume other living things to exist. Whether you’re snapping carrot sticks or crunching down chicken strips, a living thing is feeding you. And blood is the symbol of living things. That is why it is so important to always offer a prayer of thanksgiving before eating, thanking God, the Giver of all life, for the sacrifice of life that sustains your own life.
Whether avoiding blood as in Judaism or swimming in blood as in Mithraism and Vampirism, religious traditions recognize the sacrificial power of blood. Spilling lifeblood sustained and renewed life. If we clean up all the bloodstains that have spattered over Christ’s church, we whitewash the sacrifice, we lose the lifeblood of love that has brought us into being.
Jesus’ words to would-be disciples in today’s gospel text remind us of the true-blood costs of genuine discipleship. There is true love that is worth true blood, that is worth life itself.
Jesus challenges those who would follow him to put faith before family and finances; to put commitment to God before concern for oneself. Jesus called his disciples to be possessed by the Spirit, not possessed by stuff or substances. Jesus warned his disciples that to journey with him meant carrying the bloody cross every step of the way. Jesus revealed to his disciples that they must be willing to give up everything, even life itself, for the sake of loving and following him. To experience eternal life, Jesus said, we must drink his blood (Jn 6:53-54).
A covenant is never “made.” A covenant is always “cut” (Exodus 24:6-8). You should never talk about “making” a covenant in the Hebrew sense of the term. A covenant is always “cut.” There is a “cutting” or a “sacrifice” involved in the making of a covenant. That is why when Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant after his last Passover with the disciples, he said: “This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28). In the Eucharist, the history of redemption is told in the language of life, the language of Flesh and Blood: “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me and I in him: (John 6:56).
But the sacrifice has been made once for all (Heb. 10:10). The Lamb was slain. “Lamb” is a symbol of Christ in the Book of Revelation. Christ is called “Lamb” 28 times in the Book of Revelation. In the eternal purpose of God Christ was “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
A lamb was “cut” in the legal covenants of the Old Testament. The first sacrifice ever offered by a man was a lamb (Gen.4:4). A lamb was used in the Passover (Ex. 12:3). A lamb was used in the daily sacrifice of the tabernacle (Ex. 29:38‑39) and other sacrifices (Num. 28:3, 9, 13).
Christ was called a Lamb in Old Testament prophecy “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; cf. Jer. 11:19) – and in the New Testament: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth” (Acts 8:32; Acts 8:35 is where Jesus as the Lamb of God is made explicit). John the Baptist called Jesus a sacrificial Lamb: “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); “And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36).
The slaying of the Lamb of God was once-for-all. Jesus spelled the end of animal sacrifice. Rather than the blood of animals, wine is the “blood of grapes” treaded out (Gen.49:11). The new covenant brings life. The old blood cults took life. The initiates into Mithrism were left with nothing but bloodstains and a steak dinner. All those beautiful, buffed-up “vampire” bodies may be called the “undead.” But they only remain vital by constantly feeding on life.
When Jesus, the Lamb of God, offered himself as the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of the world, his gift to us was eternal life. Jesus banished the need for blood-letting by breaking the power of death. The gift on the other side of the cross is eternal life. Eternal life does not feed off lifeblood. Eternal life lives on the love of God.
Through Christ, the new lifeblood of all his disciples IS love.
So what will it be?
Will you be washed in the blood of bulls? Will you be washed in the blood of vampires? Or will you be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Only the blood of the Lamb is true blood.
Leonard Sweet Commentary, Leonard Sweet, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., 2010, 0-000-1415