In her novel, A Taste for Death, PD James opens with this vivid description of the discovery, by an elderly spinster, of two bodies in a church:
“There were two of them and she knew instantly, and with absolute certainty, that they were dead. The room was a shambles. Their throats had been cut and they lay like butchered animals in a waste of blood. …One corpse had slipped from the low single bed to the right of the door and lay staring up at her, the mouth open, the head almost cleft from the body. she saw again the severed vessels, sticking like corrugated pipes through the clotted blood. The second was propped, ungainly as a rag doll, against the far wall. His head had dropped forward and over his chest a great mat of blood had spread like a bib. A brown and blue woollen cap was still on his head but askew. His right eye was hidden but the left leered at her with a dreadful knowingness. Thus mutilated, it seemed to her everything human had drained away from them with their blood; life, identity, dignity. They no longer looked like men. And the blood was everywhere. It seemed to her that she herself was drowning in blood. Blood drummed in her ears, blood gurgled like vomit in her throat, blood splashed in bright globules against the retinas of her closed eyes. The images of death she was powerless to shut out swam before her in a swirl of blood, dissolved, reformed, and then dissolved again, but always in blood.” (pages 12-13).
Such a powerful description. James certainly knew how to convey the horror of such a moment. Her evocative language engaged my attention when I first read the book. What struck me in particular was how the certainty of death was hammered home by the references to blood. They were in a ‘waste of blood’, it was ‘through clotted blood’, and ‘a great mat of blood’ in the first half of the paragraph. She spells out how this loss of blood graphically displays their loss of humanity – the drained blood draining their very ‘life, identity, dignity’. And with that, James goes into full throttle and refers to the blood another seven times leaving the reader absorbed in this bloodiness: blood everywhere…blood in ears, blood in throat, blood in eyes, blood swirling, always in blood. There is no escape for the spinster, nor for the reader – the blood has confronted her and us with death.
The book is all about the hunt for the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Who killed the two people whose bodies were found in the church? James’ evocative ‘blood description’ drew me to consider the way the bible refers to the death of Christ. This week I’ve been looking at Hebrews 10:19 which reads:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…”
The blood of Jesus. The phrase is clearly a way of referring to the death of Jesus as John Stott notes: ‘Blood shed stands…not for the release of life from the burden of the flesh, but for the bringing to an end of life in the flesh.’ (The Cross of Christ, 2nd ed, p 210). In speaking about the death of Jesus, the bible often focusses upon the shedding of the blood of Jesus. The argument of Hebrews 9 is filled with blood for ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’ (9:22). As the apostle John notes in his letter, sin needs cleansing, and this comes through the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
Washed in the blood of the Lamb. Cleansed by the blood of Jesus. The phrasing is familiar to me but it is easy to become so familiar that I forget the graphic nature of what took place at the cross. Perhaps that is why the death is described in terms of ‘blood shed’. Blood confronts us – as PD James realised. Murder is horrendous. And the death of Jesus is a bloody one. Moreover, it is the killing of ‘the Author of life’ (Acts 3:15). We do well to meditate upon the blood of Jesus.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).