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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.]

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