We aren’t Lutherans. Nevertheless, on Sunday our sixth-graders wedged into the first pews with their well-dressed parents to drink Christ’s blood (John 6:53).
The kid behind me was in my class three years ago when I taught third-grade Sunday school. He was a total squirrel. I had to pull him aside one day and remind him not to lick (poke, kick, color, etc.) the guy next to him.
His whole class were squirrels. I spent every Saturday night wracking my brain for creative connections between these 8-year-olds and the 2000-year-old story, seeking some magic to transform their chattering wiggles into chattering wiggles with Jesus. The next morning, I’d resort to bribery: “Say your verse and I’ll feed you chocolate.”
Last Sunday, my sixth-grade squirrel slouched in his seat. His face read boredom with a capital snore. I resisted the urge to poke him and whisper, “Dude! Vampire! You’re gonna’ drink BLOOD!”
Anne Rice’s Blood
It wouldn’t have helped. He’s too young to remember Interview with the Vampire. Heck, he’s too young to watch Interview with the Vampire, though it might convey the underlying significance of the Lord’s Supper better than the words of institution do.
The blood in Anne Rice’s vampire novels works the way it does in the Bible. Lestat feeds on Nicolas’s blood and is both plunged into Nicolas’s depression and imbued with Nicolas’s violin-virtuosity. Nicolas’s life, ghastly and glorious though it may be, is in his blood, so when Lestat drinks it, he takes on Nicolas’s character.
This feeding, however, also transforms Nicolas from a mortal to a monster, granting him a perversion of eternal life and binding him forever to Lestat, his creator, his father.
Ancient Near Eastern Blood
Rice’s vampires revive the cultic eating rituals of the ancient Near East. In the nations that surrounded Israel, humans manipulated their physical world to exact control over their spiritual world.
They ate a fellowship meal of sacrificed meat—still warm and bloody from the knife— with the spirit/god as mediated by a witch. This covenant bound them to the medium as well as to the god. Leviticus 19:26 forbids this option to the Israelites,* though Saul’s army and then Saul himself do try it (1 Sam 14:33; 28:24–25).† The gods break covenant and the Philistines win anyway (1 Sam 31:6–7).
They also directly drank the blood of an animal that was slaughtered for food, imbibing the life-force as well as the nutrients of the animal. Leviticus 17:10–14 forbids this to the Israelites as well, explaining that life-force belongs to God. He permits an offering of the blood on the altar because that is how atonement is made—the animal’s life for an Israelite’s life. Even in this case, however, an Israelite would merely return to God a life-force that belonged to God in the first place. This exchange functioned as a physical confession that the Israelite’s own life-force, which was spared, also belonged to God.
God was clear that he did not drink the blood offered to him to enhance his own power (Ps 50:12–13). There is no record of the Israelites doing this, either, though three times in Scripture the idea of God’s people drinking their enemies’ blood is used as a metaphor for his kingdom’s conquest of the surrounding nations (Num 23:23–24; Ezek 39:17–22; Rev 16:5–7).
This is our physical confession that life-force is God’s in the first place. We drink Christ’s blood. We consume Christ’s death as well as his resurrection. Jesus’ life-force is in his blood, so we imbibe his life-force—ghastly and glorious though it is. We take on his character. We eat our covenant with the one true God. His Son is both the mediator and the meat. We bind ourselves forever to Jesus, our maker, to God, our Father. We are transformed from mortals into Christians and granted eternal life.
These are our eating rituals. They are not forbidden to us. They are prescribed. It’s no wonder that after Jesus’ explanation “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). Knowing all this, it’s a wonder we let our children into the sanctuary, never mind into the first pew to participate.
Nevertheless last Sunday, my bored sixth-grader walked forward with his well-dressed parents and proclaimed Christ’s death until he comes again. So did I. And I’m not even a Lutheran.