When with the blood of Jesus Christ

*** This hymn presents a Christian interpretation of the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover).


When, with the blood of Jesus Christ.midi


In the book Exodus the story of the institution of the first Passover is situated immediately before Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Those who continue to celebrate the rite in generations to come match themselves up with an Israel still awaiting redemption. And so our story’s awkward narrative placement[1] serves well to render the exodus event as both a past event and a present hope.[2]

In reading this story, we are therefore not simply looking back. The Passover needs to be understood as a contemporary event. Christians, however, need to be sensitive to the fact that it is first and foremost a Jewish festival. It is neither a space into which outsiders may freely wander, nor a cultural resource to be plundered for the furnishing of Christian worship. Perhaps nothing focuses the way Christians regard Jews more sharply than the way we reflect upon Pesach, Passover. This hymn attempts to do just that, not by detailed use of the Passover symbols, but rather by analogy, as the third stanza makes plain.

By the device of ‘the cross … smeared and stained’, the opening couplet identifies Jesus as the Passover Lamb of Christian proclamation. While acknowledging that it was the oppression of the Israelites that drove them from Egypt, the ‘earth … all un-paradised’ intimates a larger, cosmic disaster, mitigated in the event by the belief that it is the incarnation of ‘faith, hope, love’ who was sacrificed. Thus, against all the odds, ‘a space for life was gained’.

‘… wraiths from some lost past’ alludes to the cultural confusion of many contemporary Christians. In the wake of liturgical renewal, some still suffer from the loss of once familiar worship rituals. With the active promotion in society of greed-based consumerism, some miss the clear moral teaching they grew up with. Others again, too young to recall the clarity – real or imagined – of earlier times, may simply find the church to be impenetrably vague or irrelevant. So we come to church: then what? The second stanza responds to this confusion with the assertion that everything in the past, present, and future turns on the death of Jesus; this is what we re-present in worship. The power of this proclamation fills and overflows the space in which we open ourselves to the new life wanting to be born in and through us.

Very near the surface of the story of the Passover’s institution, yet usually ignored, is the fate of the Israelites’ enemies, the Egyptians, their wealth, and their first-born. The fourth stanza prays for them, and for all enemies, for the humanization of those who pray it, achieved by the sealing and sowing of our lives ‘with your blood, Lord Jesus Christ’.

The five lines of each verse quietly subvert the idea of a certain sedateness associated with hymns of four, six, or eight lines per stanza. The reason for choosing five lines is that, just as the Israelites were urged to eat the Passover with loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand … hurriedly[3], so Christians are to celebrate the Eucharist with a lively sense of urgency. We ‘consecrate heaven’s endless gifts to recreate a world set free from fears.’

The music is named after Adrian Snell, a composer and friend whose participation in ‘Seven Words from the Cross’ at St Paul’s Cathedral on Good Friday 2003 was influential in the writing of this hymn.

[1] The story consists of detailed instructions about how the Passover ritual is to be carried out in perpetuity. Such instructions would seem to belong better in the book Leviticus than here; they seem to interrupt the dramatic flow of the surrounding chapters.

[2] Gary A. Anderson, in The Lectionary Commentary: The First Readings 2001 p.86

[3] Exodus 12.11