WORSHIP SERVICE AUGUST 15 2021 “A Transfusion of Grace”
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, August 15, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “A Transfusion of Grace.”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
“A Transfusion of Grace”
Brandon Levine has no memory of the motorcycle accident that happened on his first solo ride in April 2015. He was 40-years old when the force of the accident hurled him chest-first into a guardrail. His primary vein that transports blood to the heart was severed and when he arrived at the hospital they rushed him into emergency heart surgery. Levine had also shattered his jaw, eye socket, arm and hip, and suffered damage to his kidneys, lungs and liver as well. As the ER team rushed the middle-aged man to the operating room he grabbed the arm of the anesthesiologist and said, “Please help me.”
The doctor said she heard those three words in her head for the next eight hours as they transfused 100 units of blood into the man’s veins and struggled to save his life with a surgery that had a 5 % survival rate.
In total, Levine received 207 units of blood, plasma and platelets which is about 20 times the average person’s blood volume. During his first night in the hospital, his heart stopped twice, but nurses revived him each time and somehow, after weeks of surgery and therapy, Levine survived. Reflecting on that first night of the accident, the doctor said that “Brandon would not be here if it wasn’t for the generosity of those who hear the ‘Please help me’ of strangers in desperate need of precious blood.”
In our modern times we are used to the idea that people can give blood to help others. After major disasters or accidents there is often an outcry for folks to donate blood and the public responds by replenishing supplies at local and national blood banks. Such donations can help provide miracles for people like Brandon who are sustained by these gifts until their bodies are healed. While we have become accustomed to blood transfusions in this day and age as a tool at the disposal of modern medicine, they are a relatively recent practice in the medical field. The first known transfusion from a human to another human was in 1795, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s when a British doctor used a blood transfusion to help save a patient and published the results. It wasn’t until 1932 when the first blood bank was established.
Certainly, back in the time of Jesus they would not have known about blood transfusions which would have made Jesus’ statement from the Gospel of John this morning all that more confusing. He says, “very truly I tell you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” The listeners of Jesus were perplexed by the words he was using. How could someone else’s blood give them life? The Bible says the crowd disputed among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
I can’t blame those listeners of Jesus for their confusion and for arguing amongst themselves about what Jesus could mean. This language of eating flesh and drinking blood is kind of grotesque and weird. In fact, during the early years of Christianity when the faith was just beginning to spread across the Greek and Roman world, Christians were sometimes criticized by other citizens and leaders as being cannibalistic. This probably seems very odd for those of us who have been Christians for a while, but for people who knew nothing about the faith and who were already suspicious of this new religion, some of the worship practices were not so clear. The Eucharist or Holy communion was especially mysterious to outsiders because of the language that was used and because only baptized believers could participate in the ritual.
What people did hear about Christian worship could sound odd then, because they didn’t have the background or the understanding of why certain language was being used. Imagine someone from outside the church hearing Jesus say, “unless you eat of my flesh or drink of my blood you will not have life.” The very words that are used for the Eucharist or communion are also a little disturbing as Jesus says, “take and eat, this is my body given for you.” This could easily be heard literally by a listener who was ignorant of the metaphor that Jesus was using. You could also see how these words could be construed in a negative sense by those who may have wanted to be critical of the Christians or use them as scapegoats.
It is important for us on the inside of the church to stop and think about those on the outside of the church, once in a while, and how they might view or hear practices and language that we have come to be comfortable with as Christians. We might think it is no big deal, but when you put yourself in the shoes of someone who has not heard such language before, you can understand why it might sound odd. This is a reminder that we cannot just throw around such language or imagery without some kind of explanation of what the symbols mean. If Jesus did not mean we were literally to eat his flesh and blood then what did he mean?
One way I have come to think about this symbolism is that through Jesus, God longs to draws us near and be close. When I have brought communion to people’s homes and we have shared the sacrament together I will sometimes thank God in the closing prayer that through Jesus, God has become as close to us as the very food that we eat. Think about it for a moment. When you eat something you chew on it for a while then you swallow it, and it becomes a very part of who you are as your body digests it and integrates the nutrients into the cells of your being in order to bring you life.
Maybe this is how it is supposed to work with God’s word. We are to chew on it for a while so that it breaks down and becomes a part of us. We are to think about it. Mull it over. Allow it to sink in and inwardly digest it so that God’s word can become a part of our everyday life and bring us strength when we need it.
This idea of drawing strength from a source outside of ourselves has been a part of different religious throughout the centuries, including Native American spirituality. The Indigenous people of North America did not think of the natural world as separate pieces, but as a whole that included humans and the other animals.
Many indigenous people believed and continue to believe that animals have spirits and that animals give their bodies to provide food, fur, and other materials for humans. The taking of an animal’s life, therefore, was and is a sacred act.
There are many teachings that were spread amongst different tribes and clans about the significance of hunting and gathering. An old teaching that came from the Ojibway tribe was that everything was created for a purpose, and each living thing on the earth had its place in the circle of life. They believed that the animals were created to feed the people, to give us strength, and we should be thankful for that gift. It was very important for the hunter to pray and give thanks when taking the life of an animal, as taking that life meant that he could feed his own family. Some tribes may have even believed the strength of the animal was transferred to the human in a spiritual way when it was eaten.
This idea that the blood of an animal could bring spiritual strength to a human or have spiritual significance for humans was a part of the ancient Jewish faith as well. The whole temple religious system was structured around animal sacrifice and the idea that the blood of an animal could atone for the sins of a human being. It was like a spiritual blood transfusion where the sins of the people were transferred onto the animals whose blood-sacrifice then made the people right with God again.
Jesus was Jewish and grew up within this system, so is it any wonder that he would have used this same language of giving of his body and blood to describe the sacrifice he would give on the cross? Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53-54). The words “flesh” and “blood” point to the cross, where Jesus’ flesh will be broken and his blood will be spilled. Jesus associates the separation of his flesh and blood in his violent death on the cross as the moment when he will totally give his whole self for the life of the world. It is on the cross that our sins our transferred onto Jesus and in return he transfers to us the forgiveness of God.
When I think of this idea of God’s mercy flowing through Jesus on the cross and bring that together with how he says we are to take of his blood in communion I can’t help but think of a blood transfusion. To me this has been helpful in applying Jesus’ ancient symbolic speech with a modern image. In a blood transfusion someone is literally sharing a part of themselves with another person in order to help bring them new life. In his death and resurrection Jesus does this in a spiritual way that people might have new life in him.
This brings me back to Brandon Levine, the man in the motorcycle accident who was saved because of blood donated by others. Due to confidentiality laws, most blood donors and recipients never meet, but in a rare event organized by the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center, Brandon was brought together with some of the 196 donors who had helped save his life. The group ranged in age from young adults in their mid-teens to older adults in their mid-70s. They were from throughout the Los Angeles region and spanned the demographic spectrum of different races and genders. The group included UCLA students, a physician, a large group of Glendale High School students who had held a school blood drive the week before Brandon’s accident and other good Samaritans from as far away as Riverside.
When Brandon addressed the crowd he told them with emotion, “Now I have a face to go with every bag of blood I received. Donating blood is one of the most selfless and gracious gifts you could ever give anyone. A part of you is inside me. I have no way to repay you, except to say thank you so much for my life.”
When we come to believe in Jesus and participate in the sacrament of communion it is like a part of him is inside of us. Through Jesus we have received a transfusion of grace. We have received a transfusion of mercy and love from God so that our strength can be renewed. All we need to do is say thank you. Also, if you are able, you might think about donating blood. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner