For one family in Venezuela, the space between death and life was filled with more shock than usual. After a serious car accident, Carlos Camejo was pronounced dead at the scene. Officials released the body to the morgue and a routine autopsy was ordered. But as soon as examiners began the autopsy, they realized something was gravely amiss: the body was bleeding. They quickly stitched up the wounds to stop the bleeding, a procedure without anesthesia which, in turn, jarred the man to consciousness. “I woke up because the pain was unbearable,” said Camejo.(1) Equally jarred awake was Camejo’s wife, who came to the morgue to identify her husband’s body and instead found him in the hallway—alive.
Enlivened with images from countless forensic television shows, the scene comes vividly to life. Equally vivid is the scientific principle utilized by the doctors in the morgue. Sure, blood is ubiquitous with work in a morgue; but the dead do not bleed. This is a sign of the living.
Thought and practice in Old Testament times revolved around a similar understanding—namely, the life is in the blood. It is this notion that informs the expression that “blood is on one’s hands” when life has wrongfully been taken. When Cain killed his brother Abel, God confronted him in the field, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” For the ancient Hebrew, there was a general understanding that blood is the very substance of our createdness, that in our blood is the essence of what it means to be alive. There is life in the blood; there is energy and power.
This notion of blood and its power can also be seen in the language of sacrifice and offering found throughout Near Eastern culture. “And you shall provide a lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering to the LORD daily; morning by morning you shall provide it” (Ezekiel 46:13). Just as it was understood that the force of life exists in the blood, there was a general understanding of the human need for the power of perfect blood, a need in our lives for atoning and cleansing. But the blood of Israel’s sacrifices was different in this sense than the blood shed by those attempting to appease and approach the gods they feared and followed. The prophets sent throughout Israel’s history were forever insisting that the God of Israel wanted more than the empty performance of sacrifice. God desired these offerings to exemplify the heart of a worshiper, one who yearns to be fully alive in the presence of the creator. The blood of a living sacrifice made this possible temporarily, but God would provide a better way.
When Christianity speaks of Christ as the Lamb of God, it is meant to be a description that moves well beyond symbol or metaphor. Christ is the Lamb whose blood cries out with enough life and power to reach every person, every sorrow, every shortfall, every tear, every evil. He is the Lamb who comes to the slaughter alive and aware, on his own accord, and with his blood covers us with life, moving us forever into the presence of God by the Spirit. There is life in the blood of Christ, whose entire life is self-giving love; there is power, and he has freely sacrificed all to bring it near. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to a crowd that would understand the concept, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
Mr. Camejo bled because he was living. His pain was equally a sign of life. The many ways in which we have bled, fragile and mortal, are signs of life, something shared with one who suffered as a human in every way. “When they hurled their insults at him,” writes Peter, “he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he…bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” The Christian story tells of a time when we will bow before the slain Lamb who stands very much alive, though bearing the scars of his own death. He is not dead and buried, but beckoning a broken world to his wounded side, offering love and life, mercy and power in blood poured out for you:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.(2)
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) “‘Dead’ man wakes up under autopsy knife”, Reuters, 14 September 2007.
(2) George Herbert, “The Agony.”