“I’m covered in Jesus’ blood!” A Christian almost sings this mantra to explain why Coronavirus can’t touch the faithful. The image the Christian uses disturbs us. A smiling white-teethed, human being poured over and dripping with the emptied blue-veined remains of another. It’s cult-like. Demented. The use made of the image bothers us too. Do you want to give grandpa good luck against disease? Verbally smear yourself with the blood of a first-century Jewish man and you won’t need a ventilator. Come on. This is the 21st century. Show me the love of Jesus. Tell me the wisdom of Jesus. But why this talk of blood?
Covered by the Companionship of Jesus
To answer this question we have to start with the “Blood money.” That’s what they called thirty-pieces of silver earned by Judas for betraying Jesus. But Jesus called him friend and Judas sold him out. Guilt haunted him. I’ve betrayed “innocent blood,” he said. It was like he struck a hornet’s nest hidden within the briars of his conscience. Each day he ran and ran, flailing and throbbing with sting and no relief. No wonder, the field in which Judas hung himself became locally known as “the field of blood.” Pontius Pilate must have likewise heard the hive. For Pilate lifted his water-dripped hands and cried out, “I am innocent of this man’s blood!” The crowds, mob-frenzied, rage-blinded, shouted back: “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:4, 6, 8, 24-25) The “blood of Jesus” refers to the death of Jesus; both the fact of it and the foul-play.
Have you ever been kissed and spoken to with nice words, but the kiss was poison and the words a signal freeing others to harm you? Jesus has too. In Jesus, we have a friend who knows the treachery of life first-hand. He is the companion who’s been there.
At our best, when we say we are “covered in the blood,” we invite a conversation, not about escaping sickness for ourselves, but about our being empowered by the sympathy of God.
Covered by the Forgiveness of Jesus
Perhaps you or those you spend time with, don’t use the word “sin” in your daily lives. Maybe, you’d even say, “I don’t believe in sin.” But maybe you can relate to Buddy Wakefield. He dedicated his book of poetry “to awful men.” Perhaps Buddy and I don’t agree on these things about Jesus. But Buddy helps me grow by his empathy and skill with language.
He describes a “tyrant boy” full of anger and desiring power. You look up at the tyrant boy. He looks down and spits. “I love you,” you say, looking up, but at every mention of love, his spit spews down your face. You turn your back, the tyrant boy jumps down upon you and pushes your face through a puddle of mud. “If I can’t breathe, I’ll die here.” Then, you mud-speak the pain. “It hurts too much not to know how to stop the war.”
The war, the feud we don’t know how to stop, the ability to spit on love, our persistent desire to enjoy what isn’t love, each describe something of what Jesus meant when he spoke of sin. Jesus taught us to pray forgiveness, for how we’ve shoved others in the mud, and forgiveness for those who’ve likewise shoved us. The same Jesus who teaches us to bring such spit and mud to God in prayer also pours out his blood to end the war with peace. My blood “is poured out for many” Jesus said, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28)
When we’re “covered by Jesus’ blood,” we learn to humble ourselves as needing pardon for sins rather than heckle others because we’re protected from sickness.
Why We’re Sarcastic About Christian Blood-Talk
I don’t speak of sin and forgiveness tritely. As a Christian, I resonate with the skilled and atheist actress, Kiera Knightley. She gives voice to wise skepticism. “If only I wasn’t an atheist,” she reportedly said. “I could get away with anything. You’d just ask for forgiveness and then you’d be forgiven.”
I understand her sarcasm. She, like most of us, will hear a Christian say the blood of Jesus gives immunity from sickness, while other Christians say the blood of Jesus gives immunity from consequences. Both appeals to Jesus’ blood offer escape from responsibility rather than reasons for embracing it.
If the blood of Jesus is nothing more than a good luck charm or a tampered jury, no wonder those we care about, dismiss Christianity as selfish and crooked.
A friend, who wasn’t a follower of Jesus at the time, told me why she objected to this nonsense about Jesus forgiving our sins through his death. Her name is Pat. “That just seems too easy,” she said. “You just say you’re sorry, all is well with God, and you can go on doing the same garbage again. You say God’s love is unconditional? That just doesn’t seem right to me.”
Pat was right. You and I would tell our loved one to set a boundary if another kept leveraging love and forgiveness language to further damage them. God is no different. Love has to be true. Forgiveness has to prove genuine. Any ordinary relationship depends upon these things to bend but not break.
I tried to say something like, “Pat, I don’t know if this will make any sense, but for Christians, God’s love isn’t unconditional. And just like any relationship, love isn’t easy at all. We are trying to say that Jesus met all the conditions of God’s love. Pat, forgiveness with God comes easy to us because God already took the hard part upon himself.”
Covered by the Authenticity of Jesus
But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus speak of his blood in a provocative way? Yes, he did. Jesus told crowds of people who’d been following him, “unless you drink my blood” you won’t have a life with God (John 6:53-56). Offended, most left him. Why didn’t Jesus just clarify the metaphor he used? Because on that occasion the crowds were leveraging him rather than loving him and Jesus sniffed it out.
Sometimes we like Jesus’ provision of food but not his talk of faith. We like the surprise of his wonders, but not our surrender to his will.
Jesus called them on it. It’s like you’re talking to someone who begins to look at their phone. You keep talking. They keep scrolling. You begin to think they’re not listening at all. So, you start introducing subjects into your sentences like Pink Elephants and lollipop fairies, to see if they say, “wait, what?” or if they keep nodding and saying, “uh-uh.”
The wake up was needed because this was no fiction. Miracle would not be enough. Food would not be enough. Death was coming.
Those following Jesus treated him as a consumer preference, a lifestyle choice. But Jesus was trying to tell them about life and death, about every miserable and joyful thing. The image he chose had to wake them up. Any who’ve been terribly sinned against and any of us who know what it means to have sinned against others, need an image brutal and honest enough to enter the wreckage. In time, covered in blood, the image would be clear. The bloodied man cries out, “Forgiven them, they know not what they do.” God was taking the hard part upon himself. The conditions of true love were being met, not by us, but by HIm.
An ancient poem, called Dream of the Rood, lets us hear what the cross would say of Jesus if it could talk.
“The young warrior stripped himself then—that was God Almighty—
strong and firm of purpose—he climbed up onto the high gallows,
magnificent in the sight of many. Then he wished to redeem mankind.
I quaked when the warrior embraced me. . .
“They skewered me with dark nails . . .
They shamed us both together. I was besplattered with blood,
sluicing out from the man’s side, after launching forth his soul.
“Many vicious deeds have I endured on that hill—
I saw the God of Hosts racked in agony . . .
the corpse of the Sovereign . . .
All of creation wept, mourning the king’s fall—
Christ was upon the cross.
I Once Was Lost, But Now I’m Found
Years later, I sat by Pat in Hospice. Bald now, her skin turned yellow, I was holding her hand. Her liver gave out from years of heavy drinking. Somewhere along the line, she’d found Jesus lovely though. We’d laughed a lot too. She’d confessed the mud-shoving and spit she’d received from others and that she herself had dished out. She’d realized too that she’d treated God like this and she wanted to love him instead. Now, amid the jaundice of death, the ugly image of Jesus’ blood made a lot more sense. It fit the grim occasion. She closed her eyes. I whispered grace words with broken melody.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
Pat died. She had no good luck charm to stop it. But she was sheltered by His companionship, protected by His authenticity, guarded by His forgiveness, covered by the blood.
 Buddy Wakefield, “Before Fealty” in A Choir of Honest Killers (Write Bloody Publishing, 2019), 24.