Kelsey Wollin Dunn
Oregon, Wisconsin, United States
“Destination Assured,” by Kelsey Wollin Dunn (Mixed Media Sculpture, 2020), from the artist’s private collection.
The most powerful and mysterious statement ever made about blood was first uttered about two thousand years ago by Jesus of Nazareth. In the present day, it continues to be recited regularly throughout the world by Christian leaders to more than two billion followers.1, 2 Holy Communion is an integral part of most Christian worship services, and during this portion of the ceremony, believers are invited to participate in an act representing The Last Supper, the last earthly meal Jesus partook in the company of his twelve disciples before he was crucified, and they are encouraged to do this in the remembrance of him. In an ELCA-affiliated Lutheran church, a worship leader generally introduces this portion of the service by reading, reciting, or paraphrasing words from the Bible (varying, but typically directly from the books of Matthew, Mark or Luke) such as:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”3
A small portion of bread (or a thin wafer) is given to participants as the leader makes the following (or similar) statement: “The body of Christ, given for you.” Immediately following this is the distribution of wine (or grape juice) to each person by pouring an ounce or so into a small cup or by offering a communal cup to either drink from or to dip the food into, as the leader or assistant speaks the following (or similar) words: “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
But human blood is the necessary fluid of the enclosed vascular system of mankind now just exactly as in the time of Jesus. To shed it, or give it, requires for the body to be invaded or broken or injured in some way, punctured or cut or wounded. It cannot be given forth painlessly, as from a bladder or a salivary gland.
Wine and bread two thousand years ago were by contrast very different than they are in the twenty-first century, somewhat so in their chemical or physical makeup but mainly regarding their necessity for existence. Today, some people are unable or uninspired to eat bread at all but will not starve. In the impoverished regions and agriculturally sparse lands of many biblical locales, meats, vegetables, and many fruits were scarce and expensive in comparison to grains that could be more readily harvested and used to make bread. Bread in Jesus’ time was likely often made from coarsely ground flour such as that of wheat, barley, and possibly sorghum. Without modern milling, the germ and bran would be left intact, the bread would have a lower glycemic content, and would offer a sustained source of energy, efficient, available, and nutritious.4
Likewise, wine today plays a very different role in the lives of most people, typically being little more than an optional beverage for those who enjoy its flavor or intoxicating effects. But to the ancients wine was largely a survival product rather than a luxury, and it needed to last until the next harvest while at the same time making sure the new wine did not ferment for too long or it would turn to vinegar.5 It can be presumed that most people of that time could no sooner exist without bread and wine than they could without body and blood.
Modern-day Christians partaking in Holy Communion may seldom consider the sheer heft then of the gestures and words of Jesus when he broke the bread and offered the cup of wine. Some might not be able to imagine the Last Supper as anything more significant than a wedding banquet, as they take an unimpressive roll from a basket and accept a glass of modest champagne to toast the new couple.
To the people of Jesus’ time, he presumably aspired to impart a powerful message within a context they could understand. He did not hold up and offer some exotic morsel of food from a faraway land; he held up instead a loaf of ordinary bread that even the poorest among them could have. In the cup was not some rare and imminently perishable thing such as the milk from a Magi’s camel, it was the humble, ubiquitous juice of ordinary grapes.
It seems he took pains to point out that He was for everyone, no matter how rich or how poor and to never forget that He was highly accessible, perhaps even suggesting that His ways were quite necessary to life, that His teachings and love and promises would sustain them in all their needs.
Within days of the instruction to “drink His blood,” Jesus was crucified; his body was broken; and he bled from painful wounds. Christians believe that Jesus, although he died and was buried, rose again to live forevermore as Lord and Savior, no longer needing body or blood as he once did in his human form. The New Covenant replaced the old when Jesus ascended to heaven and the spirit of God was poured out on the believers who would no longer require intermediaries such as priests or prophets to stand between the people and God.6
The symbol of the cross on which Jesus died is found today in churches, as talismans in the form of jewelry worn by both men and women, and even etched onto the very skin of people in the form of tattoos. It is on shirts that people wear, on greeting cards and in artwork, and can be found in miniature form in graveyards or in roadside ditches near the place where a loved one has died or been laid to rest. It is one of the most recognizable representations worldwide of the very widespread belief system of people who believe in the redeeming, healing, and saving power of Christ.
Another symbolic cross also well-recognized the world over is the image of a red cross on a white field. The 1863 design for The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was based on the Swiss flag by reversing the colors of that flag in order to honor the nation of Switzerland (where the first Geneva Convention was held) and the inventor and co-founder of the organization itself, the Swiss Henry Dunant. This symbol proclaims to this day without words that there are neutral medical personnel on the battlefield, or unbiased workers or volunteers among the ruins of a natural disaster. It is a protective shield under which the people can perform their ministry.7
Although the scope and mission of the Red Cross has at times branched out into different efforts, its primary focus remains the procurement and distribution of human blood to save lives and to help mend and heal the sick.
For millions of worshiping Christians, accepting the wine of Holy Communion during their religious ceremonies is a confirmation of their belief in the power of the blood that Jesus shed, the New Covenant that allows for salvation, the remission of sins, and for life everlasting. Hearing the repeated and reassuring words of the worship leaders is an act of communing rather than commuting, but for those who do partake it is no less of a promise to them that they, too, are headed in the right direction—under the protection of the Cross of Christ, destination assured.
- Mary Fairchild, “How Many Christians Are in the World Today?” Sept. 28, 2018, http://www.learnreligions.com/christianity-statistics-700533
- “Communion ceremonies vary among denominations” May 30, 2017, http://www.themountaineer.com/life/religion/communion-ceremonies-vary-among-denominations/article_8238073e-4554-11e7-a300-7b6575cc0a69.html
- The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Inc., 1994), Matthew 26:26-28.
- “What Did Jesus Eat? 15 Superfoods In The Bible & His Time,” Superfoodly, December 24, 2019, https://www.superfoodly.com/what-did-jesus-eat-food-in-the-bible/
- Keith Beavers, “What Wine Would Jesus Drink?” April 11, 2017 www.vinepair.com/wine-geekly/what-wine-would-jesus-drink/
- The Nelson Study Bible, New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Inc., 1997), 1280.
- “History of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)” https://www.ifrc.org/en/who-we-are/history/
KELSEY WOLLIN DUNN is a writer and a member of the Cooksville Lutheran Church in southern Wisconsin. Her contributions have appeared in many Christian newsletters, local newspapers, and literary journals. She is also an artist, inspired by Christian themes.