It has often struck me as a strange and seemingly unnecessary instruction for the Israelites to mark their doorposts and lintels with the blood of the lamb so that the Lord seeing the blood might pass over their homes and not destroy their firstborn. When one thinks back to the various plagues, the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt, was always automatically spared and God seemed to know their precise location well enough. Surely, the slaying of the firstborn—that ultimate plague—was no exception? Surely God knew which homes were those of the Israelites and thus would naturally be able to avoid accidentally visiting death upon them? But if so, what was the purpose of marking the doorposts and lintels with the blood of the Lamb?
One answer is suggested by Saint Augustine who notes that although God created us without us, he will not save us without us—that is without our free acceptance and cooperation. Accordingly, marking the doors with blood was a conscious symbolic way of accepting the saving action God was offering the people so that their delivery from this plague would be freely received. But that is not all: there were any number of ways the Israelites might have marked their doors. They might have used paint, or like Rahab many years later, draped a red cord from the lintels. However, as Christians we believe that the stipulation that the doors be marked with the Blood of the Lamb prefigured Christ whom John the Baptist identified as the true Lamb of God and whose blood would save us and free us from eternal death.
For Christians not under the oppression of Pharaoh, the doorposts and lintels that we mark with the blood of the Lamb are no longer those of houses. Instead, as Saint John Chrysostom suggests the lintels and doorposts guarding our hearts are our lips repeatedly marked with the Blood of Christ received in the Eucharist. Only now it is not the Lord who passes over—for he now dwells within us—but rather Satan whose advance and attacks are halted at the sight of the saving and protecting blood marking the redeemed household and temple of God that each one of us is.
However, it is well to remember that with the exception of a handful of those whose houses were passed over by the destroying angel, the vast majority of those who left Egypt on that fateful night perished in the desert before reaching the Promised Land because of their lack of perseverance, their impatience, and their consequent infidelity to the covenant God established with them. This is to caution us that the doorposts of our lips have to be consciously and repeatedly anointed with Christ’s blood in an act of daily recommitment and accepting anew the salvation freely offered to us. Failure to do this, and partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ without discerning his body brings, not salvation and freedom but—as Saint Paul warned—condemnation and death. Those of us who partake daily of the Body and Blood of Christ are, somewhat paradoxically, at greater risk of doing this because our reception of this precious food for our journey can become all too routine and ordinary so that we don’t consciously advert to what we are actually doing.
Today’s celebration is thus a good opportunity to reassess our own attitudes and state of mind in approaching to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Unlike those medications we swallow with little thought about what we are doing and which nevertheless have their desired effect, the saving medicine of the Eucharist needs our free and conscious awareness of what we are doing and whose Body and Blood we are receiving. If you’re not already doing it, I encourage you to develop a disciplined awareness in approaching the Eucharist and when not actually feeling devout and eager in receiving the Lord to nevertheless make a conscious act of faith and love and remind yourself who and what you are receiving. Only in this way will we not also perish in the desert of this life but, crossing Jordan, enter rejoicing into that Promised Land, that Eternal Home where death can no longer enter.