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Prayer of the week

17 April 2014

Rob Wickham recommends a theologian's vivid prayer to a sacrificial and blood-soaked God

Permission by the Artist

"Bloody Lord": the Crucifixion from the Sarum Cycle by Nicholas Mynheer

"Bloody Lord": the Crucifixion from the Sarum Cycle by Nicholas Mynheer

Bloody Lord, you are just too real. Real blood is sticky, repulsive, frightening. We do not want to be stuck with a sacrificial God who bleeds. We want a spiritual faith about spiritual things, things bloodless and abstract. We want sacrificial spirits, not sacrificed bodies. But you have bloodied us with your people Israel and your Son, Jesus. We fear that by being Jesus' people we too might have to bleed. If such is our destiny, we pray that your will, not ours, be done. Amen.

Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940) from Prayers Plainly Spoken (Triangle/SPCK, 1999)

THE theological work of Stanley Hauerwas is challenging, provocative, and shocking, but it demands further reflection, and it should not be lightly dismissed. His work around ethics is now widely read, but his ability to write prayers is possibly less well known. His rather wonderful Prayers Plainly Spoken is his attempt to use everyday language by way of introduction to a God of love and joy, who is not to be kept at arms' length.

These prayers are dedicated to his grandson Joel, in the hope that this could be the best gift, teaching someone else how to pray with the Spirit, crying "Abba, Father."

We may think that this prayer is not about everyday language, because, for most of us, the sight of blood is not too regular an occurrence. But, for others, it is. I know from friends of mine who are HIV positive, haemophiliac, or diabetic, or for women who are menstruating, that they have to think about blood and its impact. This is before we think of those suffering from war or natural disaster.

Blood is an everyday occurrence. When we bleed, it often hurts. When we give blood, we are giving away something of ourselves for the very gift of life to exist in others.

This prayer reminds us of blood's stickiness, its ability to shock and to scare. We are also reminded that blood is good: it helps us to grow and live. Ultimately, we are reminded in this prayer that the blood of Jesus is far from abstract; that it gives us our identity as loved, forgiven, and redeemed people. In the words of the composer Gavin Bryars's song, sung by a homeless man on the streets of London: "Jesus' blood never failed me yet; there's one thing I know, for he loves me so. . . Jesus' blood never failed me yet."

Professor Hauerwas's prayer makes me feel uncomfortable. We live in a society which tries to wipe blood away, and the image of blood can make our stomachs retch with sickness. The news of yet another stabbing on our streets causes us to feel revulsion, and provokes the thought that someone ought to do something about it.

It is our hearts - the place of blood - that are saddened and moved when a mother screams in anguish that her child has been killed in war or in gang violence, and these cries are hardly bloodless and abstract. Blood is a symbol of our mortality and of the knowledge that death surrounds us.

Despite all this, we come regularly to receive the symbols of the body and bloodof Jesus. We drink this blood, and we allow Jesus to enter us in an intimate way whenwe come to receive communion. It is inthese gifts that we enter into the great narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We are caught up in the great events of Holy Week and Easter, where we gaze on those glorious scars of suffering and redemption. But these events demand a response: for us to live our lives as people who sometimes bleed - praying, however, that God's will be done, and not our own.

The Revd Rob Wickham is the Rector of St John-at-Hackney, in east London.

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