When [Hannah] had weaned [Samuel], she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord. (1 Sam. 1:24-28)
It used to be a common thing to dedicate the firstborn son to God. In fact, Luke reminds readers of that when he tells of Jesus’ presentation in the temple: “As it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’” (Luke 2:23). Hannah, who had fervently prayed for the gift of a son, was obliging, but it could not have been easy to leave her beloved child behind. Among the offerings she brought to the temple, the greatest was the piece of her own flesh, cut from her and forever left behind, for the sake of her covenant with God.
It is almost like, in a manner of speaking, the female’s portion of the blood covenant between Abraham and God.
Every covenant that involves God will, in the end, have something to do with blood. We beg for our babies, bear them in blood, and eventually we dedicate them (male and female) to God. If we don’t do it intentionally, at some point we will do it by accident, usually during a moment of high anxiety for the child, when we are at our most vulnerable: “Heal my child; and he is yours, if you want him, Lord.” “Only protect her, Lord, keep her safe; and she is yours.”
Every covenant contains that component of blood and of self-surrender, including the covenant of marriage. Over the centuries, the meaning and value of blood within a marital bed has become perverted, virginity reduced to human ideas of pride and “purity” and familial honor. But it was never about those things. It was about the way a human marriage reflects (and helps to sustain) the blood covenant between heaven and earth, between humanity and the Bridegroom who redeems it.
Because every covenant is a testament to enduring faithfulness, bound by nothing less than blood.
But in the Nativity of Christ the blood of the covenant is uniquely commingled. It is Mary’s own blood that nourished Christ’s life in the womb, that God’s own blood might be shed for us, to sustain and nourish us in return.
As St. John Vianney preached, “The Father takes pleasure in looking upon the heart of the most holy Virgin Mary, as the masterpiece of his hands. . . . The Son takes pleasure in it as the heart of His Mother, the source from which He drew the blood that . . . ransomed us.”
Think of it: the Creator asks the Creature to share her flesh and blood in order that he might become incarnate, take human form, so that he may eventually consent to that singular flesh being shredded, that life-sustaining blood spilled upon the earth. To fulfill a prophecy and a promise to redeem a fallen world—and yes, this means forever.
The covenant of Moses; the covenant of marriage; the new and everlasting covenant of Christ’s sacrifice, delivering our salvation. All of it requires consent, and then a sharing and surrender of flesh and blood.
This is a great mystery; we shouldn’t shy away from it simply because the sight or subject of blood makes us uncomfortable.
Flesh and blood have been at the heart of our relationship with God from the very beginning. It will be so until the end. And one way or another, we all participate in its sharing and shedding. It is the greatest of gifts, Creator to creature; spouse to spouse; parent to child; creature to Creator. As Hannah must have realized in her heart, and Mary, too, we are a closed circuit of flesh, blood, and spirit shared, from heaven to earth and back, until finally it all resides fully in God, through Christ Jesus who has drawn all things to himself. (John 12:32)
Come, Lord Jesus!
A small bit of related trivia: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, when the blood is considered sluggish or stagnant, myrrh is used, because myrrh “moves the blood.” When myrrh was presented by the Magi, we might consider that it was part of what moved the blood covenant forward, into the era of this redemptive marriage between creature and Creator.
What a lot to think about, as Advent draws to a close.
Come, Lord Jesus, and instruct us in these mysteries; bring your Light to bear on them, that we may grow in Wisdom and understanding, in pursuit of our ever-deepening relationship with you. Amen.