Hump Day Hymns: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed

Hymnal

Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would He devote that sacred dead
For sinners such as I!

Was it for sins that I have done
He suffered on the tree!
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut its glories in,
When Christ, the great Redeemer died
For human creatures’ sin.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
‘Tis all that I can do.
-Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

I’ve often been uncomfortable with the talk of blood in the church, and songs have often made me feel more disgusted than comforted. Take for instance Cowper’s well-known hymn:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains…

The imagery here is gruesome and unsettling. A fountain. Of blood. We seem to have become preoccupied with blood and death. Had I not been raised in the church, I wonder what I would have thought if I stumbled into a church which were singing either of these hymns.

It was not until I heard a lecture several years ago by a Scottish theologian that it was put into a new perspective:

…Maybe we should be wary about too quickly turning blood into spirit…blood will keep coming back to mess up our worship, to remind us that we are here because someone got killed; some body got slapped and whipped and nailed and lynched – somebody got blamed – and God did something with God called atonement that is both mysterious and troubling and precious…

**

I think that this is what was at the core of the Gnostic controversies in the early church. There was much more going on than just splitting doctrinal hairs, it was about much more than just deciding who was “in” and who was “out”. These had to do with the core of the gospel and how redemption happens, and what redemption means.

I’ve always preferred spirit to body. Spirit is neat and clean; body is messy and dirty. It is much easier to come to terms with faith when one believes in the immortality of the soul and heaven is some kind of ethereal spiritual existence.

This, however, is not the world that I live in — this is not the world that we live in. We live in a world of the physical, we live in a world when bodies are broken and messy. We live in a world where there is blood and other bodily fluids. We live in a world where redemption and restoration is physical, not just spiritual.

It is important that the church is a place where we can speak of blood and other messy things.

The reality of the situation is that I, along with other followers of Christ, follow someone who died naked on a cross. There is little dignified about that. There is little which is neat and clean about that. There is little which is easy to understand about that.

At our church we don’t have spiritual worship — we worship in and with our bodies and all that comes along with them. Perhaps talking about blood is not to be avoided, after all, we all have blood pulsing through our veins which keeps us alive. Perhaps talking about death is not to be avoided, death is something which we will all experience. Perhaps we can talk about new life only because we can first talk about death. Perhaps blood and death (and subsequent life) are the only things about which the church can clearly speak.

Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!

If we can’t talk about blood and death in church, what can we talk about?

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