The Vaster End of Blood

The Vaster End of Blood

[This Good Friday, I commend to you the following excerpt from Chapter 4 of Robert Farrar Capon's most outstanding The Supper of the Lamb.]

In the Law of the Lord,
Leviticus, the eighth chapter, the fourteenth verse: Aaron
and his sons laying hands upon the bullock’s head, blood
poured at the bottom of the altar to make reconciliation;
the caul above the liver, and the two kidneys and their
fat—all burnt by fire for a sweet savor.
Smoke, incense,
wave breast, heave shoulder, rams of consecration, the
pomegranate and the golden bell, sounding upon the
hem of the robe round about; priest and temple, death
and holocaust, always and everywhere.
Why?

It is tempting
simply to write it off as barbarism, nonsense, superstition;
to fault it and forget it;
But the fact of blood still stands,
reproving materialist and spiritualist at once; gainsaying
worlds too small and heavens too thin.
This superadded killing,
this sacrifice, these deaths which work no earthly inter-
change, this rich, imprudent waste
Witnesses
The City’s undiminishable size:
Man wills to make of earth,
not one Jerusalem but two; this sacramental blood de-
clares the double mind by which he wills to lift both
lion and lamb beyond the killing to exchanges unaccount-
able and vast.
Man’s priestliness therefore
bespeaks his refusal of despair; proclaims acceptance of
a world which, by its murderous hand, subscribes the
insupportable dilemma of its being—the war of lion and
lamb having no other likely outcome here than two im-
possibilities:
The one,
a pride of victors feeding on the slain; but leaving the
lion as he was before, trapped in ancient reciprocities by
which at last all power falls to crows;
And the other,
a hymn to despair no victim will accept; it is not enough,
in this paroxysm of martyrdoms, to stand upon the ship-
wrecks of the slain and praise the weak for weakness; the
lamb’s will, too, was life; he died refusing death.
Sacrifice therefore
Not written off, but recognized,
a sign in blood of the vaster end of blood; a redness
turning all things white; an impossibility prefiguring the
last exchange of all.

The old order, of course,
unchanged; the deaths of bulls and goats achieving
nothing; Aaron still ineffectual; creation still bloody;
But haunted now by bells within the veil
where Aaron walks in shadows sprinkling
blood and bids a new Jerusalem descend.
Endless smoke now rising
Lion become priest
And lamb victim
The world awaits
The unimaginable union
By which the Lion lifts Himself Lamb slain
And, Priest and Victim,
Brings
The City
Home.

[Artwork by Chris Koelle.]