March 23, 2013

The Blood of the Lamb and the Sign of the Cross

For Christians, the ancient rites of Passover and the Passion of Christ are deeply connected.   To deliver the People of God from slavery in Egypt, God sent an angel of death, a great power that stole from families the lives of those they deemed most precious.   To protect His own People from this destroying angel, He commanded the Hebrews to gather as families, slaughter a lamb and to sprinkle the blood of this lamb on the doorposts of their homes.  Seeing the blood, the angel of destruction passed over the homes of those who belonged to the Lord.  In the tradition of Christian prayer, this sprinkled blood foreshadows the power of the Blood of Christ signified by the Sign of the Cross.  So much did the early Christians connect their faith in the Blood of Christ with that of the saving events of the Passover, St. Paul explains, "Our Paschal Lamb, Christ has been Sacrificed" 1 Cor. 5:7.

Ecce Homo
By St. Albert Chmielowski of Krakow
The Gospels explicitly connect the sacred rites of the Last Supper of the Lord with the Passover celebration.  There are also other theological contexts connecting the sacrifice of the lamb with the Cross of Christ. (See Mark 15:25-37.)  In the Gospel of John, according to St. Augustine in Tractate 117, Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, the day on which lambs were slaughtered for the celebration of passover (See John 19:14).  The diversity of these Scriptural traditions is symphonic, speaking to the inexhaustible horizons of the Lord's saving work, a mystery so vast and beautiful the only proper response is thanksgiving (eucharist).

Whenever we prayerfully reflect on the beautiful connections of our salvation prefigured in Exodus and fulfilled in Christ, our hearts are made vulnerable to the vision of the early Christians.  Their vision was filled with wonder over the blood of the sacrificial lamb and what it revealed about the Mystery of the Cross.   They marveled over how the blood that was shed in ancients rites foreshadowed the Blood of Christ they received by faith and they rooted their worship in this contemplation.
"The Passion of the Christ was prefigured by the Jews when they received the command to mark the doors of their houses with blood.  It is by the sign of His Passion and Cross that you must be marked today on the forehead, as on a door, and that all Christians are marked."  St. Augustine, De catechizandis rudibus, as cited by Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, Ann Arbor: Servant Books (1979), 167.
St. Augustine is connecting the ancient rite of sprinkling the blood of the lamb, a saving sign for the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, with the cross that is given in the baptismal rites, a saving sign for those seeking freedom from sin.  Before baptism, the Church entrusts the Sign of the Cross to the chosen catechumen by tracing a cross on the forehead with the Oil of Catechumens.   This ancient Christian rite is continued in our Catholic practice today.   Those who receive the Sign of the Cross (sphargis)  through this anointing are safe from demonic attack in a manner similar to the way ancient Hebrew families were saved from the angel of death.   The blood of God, the life of God, is more powerful than evil.
"There is no other way to escape the destroying angel than by the blood of God, Who by love has poured out His blood for us.  And by this blood, we receive the Holy Spirit.  Indeed the Spirit and the blood are related in such a way that by the blood which is connatural to us, we receive the Spirit which is not con natural, and the gate of death is closed to our souls.  Such is the sphragis of the blood."  Paschal Homilies of Pseudo-Chrysostom as cited by Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, Ann Arbor: Servant Books (1979), 166. 
Making the Sign of the Cross is like covering ourselves in the Blood of Jesus.  Whenever we make the Sign of the Cross with devout faith, we are renewing our baptismal commitment and the Lord communicates His life to us in new and unimaginable ways.  This Sign of Victory plunges us into the saving power of God foreshadowed in the Exodus.  In a world of all kinds of slavery and death, this Sign of Freedom reminds us that God has intervened.

This Sign of Salvation proclaims to all principalities of destruction and powers of darkness that God Himself has implicated Himself in our plight and helps us remember that we are never alone -- no matter how difficult or dark the circumstances we must face.  This Sign of Hope renews our faith that the saving power of His Blood is such that no matter how intense the struggle, no irrational force in the heavens above or on the earth below is able to surmount the love of God.  Through renewing this Seal of our Hearts, the heart covers itself again with the Blood of the Lamb so that even in death it knows Eternal Life.