Symbols Part 2

Jesus seemed to have a habit of making things be other than what they had been. In His first recorded miracle, at a time of celebration He changes water into wine. Then at the end of His earthly ministry at a dinner celebration He declares this wine is blood. His blood. And we are commanded to take it in within ourselves, sealing within us an identification with that Life which is in the blood. Doing so proclaims the gap is now bridged between repentant sinner and holy God.

Water, without which natural life is impossible, has been transformed into wine that now simultaneously becomes symbol of blood, life and death. Yet, more than symbol, the act itself of drinking the wine calls into reality the Life and Death of Jesus, source of all. The line between symbol and reality becomes blurred.

Water plays a large part of another Biblical truth. The rite of baptism, of being plunged beneath the waters and raised again, was affirmed by Jesus as He demonstrated His own submission to that act. When we are buried into baptism waters it is a symbolic union with the reality of Jesus’ blood and very life poured out. It was and is an act of cleansing, and a symbol of image

death to the old life before resurrecting to the new.

In a recent dream I saw a man of God I know standing beside a large baptismal bowl which has a continual flow of water moving over its top into a recycling system below. Only in the dream the entire pool was wine! As I pondered this, the symbol of wine representing death was merged with water and the death it represents. At the same moment, the wine and water symbolize new life. In a way too mysterious to describe, the wine of Communion, the Eucharist, plunges the partaker into the death of baptism and the death of Christ simultaneously. No longer symbol, the recipient now rises to new life, a life in full.

All of this consistently points to the reality of a God who is joined with us at every level – not a God afar off. He has incorporated us and taken us with Him into His death, His blood shedding, His life poured out for other’s sale. The phenomenal news is that when He arose, the resurrected life was completely new — and when He arose, we were and still are attached as it were with that new life available to us in Him.

His one over-arching command: Love one another. Because of the water, wine and blood, that impossibility is now possible. Symbol and reality are One.

 

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Symbols, Part 1

I greatly admire and appreciate artistic ability, a gift which is not mine. It takes me three pages of thinking out loud in my notebook to convey an idea expressed movingly by art in any form. Akiane depicts past, future, shock, and sacrifice in her unforgettable painting of Eve and the Forbidden Fruit, (http://www.akiane.com) in a way that touches the heart more deeply than any theologian with impressive credentials. Ideas, symbols and reality all come together on one canvas. It is magic, really.

I know a man who has been looking for truth all his life. He sent me a photo of his artwork; every canvas was a jumble of lines and and paths going off in all directions. It doesn’t take artistic expertise to see that he hasn’t yet found what he is seeking.

Symbols – we use them all the time to convey concepts that are at times too deep, wide and high for expression. Some things we experience or wonder about are simply beyond words. In our humanity we can find common ground in symbols rather than words which can quickly divide, as we each shape and interpret them with individual nuance of meaning.

When do symbols become the reality? Is there a difference between them? Sometimes it is difficult to separate a symbol from the reality it represents. A Marine saluting the flag or his officer is extending honor to the person or thing being saluted. Honor, an abstract, invisible concept, is displayed by the salute to the point that the salute then becomes the concept revealed. Is that action not also the honor itself?

Symbols, types and shadows are found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament is primarily an historical record of a Middle-Eastern people group. It records conquests, defeats, settlement – and their God experiences. It is history. The New Testament then declares that what was written is representative of a greater reality – a spiritual truth of a higher order. What the ancient Israelites experienced in their reality was meant for later generations to see higher truths about God and His self revelation in Jesus Christ. The details, the stories serve as types and shadows of things to come. They were one thing, a reality, at the same time holding within themselves a greater meaning symbolizing something else.

This then leads me to expressions of faith. A small gold cross, centered with a smaller diamond, hangs around my neck. A delicate piece of jewelry, only a trinket to animist or Buddhist, it speaks volumes to me as I grow in my understanding of my value to God and the centrality of Jesus in all of life. Whole libraries try to explain the reality of the cross, while my cross is declaring that meaning wordlessly to those who believe.

Since earliest times and cultures, blood has represented the life within it. Leviticus declared “The life is in the blood” as it called for the sacrifice of a living thing, with application of its blood, to atone for or bridge the gap between a repentant sinner and a holy God. Blood became symbolic of life and forgiveness and reconciliation. Earlier in Jewish history, blood used as a sign on the door provided protection from a plague of death. Blood from the death of one being then became equated as life giving to another.

The sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament was designed for atonement, bringing the repentant person to a holy God, and as a part of worship. Worship was and is 1. offering the best we have, and 2. offering a life laid down. All was a preparation for the time of Jesus. His blood represents both those aspects of worship.

When Jesus at his last Seder held up the cup, the one which was traditionally set aside for the coming hoped-for Messiah, he declared that the wine in that cup was his blood. Shed blood. Poured out blood. They all knew it was wine. But it was blood. Jesus said so. He was conveying to the group that he was to be the ultimate sacrificial animal, the being whose blood would bridge that uncrossable gap between God and man. The death of this living being of the highest order would be life-giving to all others, once and for all. There is no thing anywhere in the cosmos that can trump that act, that blood. The symbol of the Old Testament was now becoming revealed as prototype, by a declaration of the true and real before their very eyes. His blood is at the same time both symbol and reality.