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Friday, May 20, 2016

What Can Wash Away My Sin?

I published this essay in my book, Learning to Lean. I thought it good to repost it here.

But if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of His Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Several years ago I showed a woman a photo of a large crucifix – a cross with a figure of Jesus nailed to it. I don’t think I will ever forget her reaction. She physically shuddered, turned her head from the image, and told me to close the book.
"It's too gruesome,” she said.        
The blood seeping from his side and forehead disturbed her. She preferred the unadorned cross she’d grown accustomed to in the church she attended over the past few decades.
Many people don’t often think about it, but Christianity is a bloody, gruesome religion.  But it had to be bloody, for only blood – in this case, the blood of the Innocent One - could atone for, or wash away, the sins of the guilty.
And gruesome it was. Soldiers tied Jesus’ hands to the whipping post and stripped off his robe. Then one of them swung the rock-embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks and legs. Again and again, slicing into His flesh until strips of skin hung from his body. Small capillaries and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each beat of His heart and tracked down His back, His thighs, His legs.

The pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and congealed blood.

                                                Spurt . . .

                        until the blood vessels clotted over.

It was a bloody, bloody scene. But it was a God-ordained and utterly necessary scene. Without the shed blood of Jesus, there could be no forgiveness of sins to the penitent.
My sins. Your sins. Your pastor’s sins. The Pope’s sins. Everyone’s sins. As the Holy Spirit warns: All humanity has gone astray. We have each turned to our own way. But God, being rich in mercy, laid all of our sin - and its judgment - on Jesus (see Isaiah 53:6).
Without the bloody death of the Messiah, there would be no hope for absolution in the confessional to the penitent. No hope ever for forgiveness. No hope for eternal life, but instead only a sure judgment and eternal damnation facing us in our grave.

But for the blood of Jesus. 

Which is why St. Paul wrote: In [Christ] we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). And the Church explains, Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of [Jesus’] cross . . .  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 517). And again: The human heart is . . . . converted by looking upon [Christ] whom our sins have pierced: Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father . . . (Catechism, 1432).

So knowing this, knowing the bloody, gruesome cost of our salvation, how then ought we live?
Reverently, yes. Obedient to His Word. Of course. But we must not forget that the ability for reverence and obedience results from growing deeper in love with God. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, one time Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that  is, falling in love [with Him] in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your  imagination; it will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, what you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love [with God], stay in love, and it will decide everything."
And so, let us prayerfully implore the Holy Spirit each day to help us grow deeper in love with God, and that He train our hearts to reverence and obedience – and to ever internalize the answer to the question: What can wash away my sin?      
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

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