Unity of the church is, and has been for as long as there has been a church, a hot topic. Christ Himself prayed that we all might be one after all. Ephesians speaks about it, the Old Testament prophets speak of it, as do the psalms, and more. Unity began in the manger where Christ was born, but it is no accident that December 26, the very day after the celebration of the incarnation, we celebrate Saint Stephen, the first martyr. In celebration and appreciation of Stephen, I encourage you to read this. It echoes some of the points I will make here, and it is also right and proper that we remember and celebrate the martyrs. But, I am talking about an aspect of unity that we often ignore, so on to that.
We Christians, like it or not, are unified by blood. This starts in the Old Testament believe it or not. Consider Leviticus for a moment. I don’t expect you to read it, so don’t worry. In the first 16 chapters, we have extensive rules for the sacrifice directed primarily at the priestly class. A large part of this is the principle that blood is precious. Chapter 17 concludes the first section, but also transitions into a new section dealing primarily with everyday Jewish life. It does this by, you guessed it, talking about blood. What unites the instruction to the priests and the people is blood. This pattern is echoed in the New Testament epistles which begin with principles, then turn to practical application of those principals for those united by, you guessed it, blood, though this time the blood of Christ which is far more precious than any other. It is a recognizable theme is the instruction of the faithful in both the Old and New Testaments. Principles, then application, with blood being the uniting feature. The promised land was only realized through blood being shed. Likewise, the Kingdom of God being at hand was only realized by the shedding of blood as well. Even the new heaven and earth come only after blood is shed. Blood was held to be so precious that it was forbidden to eat the blood of any animal, even by visiting foreigners, in the Old Testament. This prohibition was reaffirmed at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Some of these things may seem a stretch, but the principle stands. There is a whole lot more that can be said about blood and it’s significance in scripture. It’s a great study I would think and if any of you decide to take it up, share your thoughts with me please. For you really smart types out there, I think there might be a thesis in this somewhere. The relationship of blood in the Old and New Testaments, it’s sacredness in faith and practice, and it’s practical effect on the Christian life or some such thing lol.
Life is in the blood. All animals and humans share this in common, there can be no life without the blood. All Christians share this as well, as there can be no life reconciled to God without the blood of Christ. Some of the more popular hymns that are sung reflect this well, but while we will sing about there being power in the blood, being washed in the blood, fountains of blood, and even nothing but the blood, we won’t talk about it much. We’ll talk about Jesus’ blood, and rightly so, but we won’t talk about the blood of the martyrs, and we certainly won’t claim that blood as unifying. Every expression of Christianity has had martyrs and is united by their blood. In fact, as Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. In that light, blood is one of the core things that unifies us. It is in fact what we have been grown from. The blood of Christ, the blood of the martyrs, and yes, the blood that we should be willing to shed should the time arise.
I would like to propose an exercise. I would like to ask you all what you will die for. I don’t want to do this as a psychological exercise, mind you, I want to do it as an expression of faith. I want to encourage you to not stop at Sunday school answers. No “I would die for the faith”. Specifics. Would you die rather than deny the Trinity? The virgin birth? The Resurrection? Specifics. What would you die for? Because of Christ, we know that ultimately, death leads us only to life eternal. We know that though our blood may be shed, Resurrection awaits us. In exploring what you will bleed for, you will find that which you will live for. In being willing to shed your blood for the faith, you will find what you are living for. Perhaps, as the martyrs have shown us, in being willing to shed our blood, we might find some understanding of what unity is.