The word symbol comes from the Greek word sym-ballein, which means to “throw together” two different things so we can see their similarities and access the larger whole. Throughout the Bible there are many symbols that appear. They are used to draw us deeper into the text and give us a better understanding of God. They are like little signs that point us toward union with God. I am only going to talk about three of them today, but there are many more. The three main ones are: water, blood, and bread.
Let’s look at water first. Water illustrates God’s invitation to union; his constant grace flowing out toward us. It shows His choosing us before we ever chose Him.
We have the Red Sea, the water from the rock in the desert (and Moses’s doubting of it,) the crossing of the Jordan, John baptizing in the river, the living water Jesus tells the Samaritan woman about, and many more.
This is usually an invitation to a first encounter with God, where He envelopes you and the current tries to pull you in deeper into the infinite abyss of His love. It is always presented as a gift, never something worked for or earned. It is also a more feminine symbol, and many women mystics have used this water metaphor throughout history.
The second symbol, blood, is a more masculine symbol. It represents the transformative experience that all religion teaches, the dying before you die. The price of anything new is the death of the old. That is what blood represents. None of like to see flowing blood. It represents death; the death of illusions, the death of lies, the death of our ego.
The Hebrew scriptures are filled with images of sacrifice and blood-letting. It was so much a part of the religion of the Israelites that a trench had to be dug around the tabernacle to collect all the blood. By the time of Jesus 90% of the economy of Jerusalem was based on the procuring, tending, feeding, and hauling away the sacrificial victims of the temple. On the great feast days literally tens of thousands of sheep, goats, and heifers would be sacrificed in the temple. To be a Levite or a priest was to be a butcher.
The New Testament symbol of blood is the crucifixion. It is God spilling His divine blood to get to us, after millenia of us spilling blood to get to Him. Jesus reversed the whole process. God, the creator of the universe and of us, the only being who has any entitlement to an ego, humbles Himself by becoming a man and sheds His own blood. The symbolism is clear, if He did it, so should we.
The final symbol is bread. This is the nurturing and life affirming nature of God. It is Him feeding us, giving us life in abundance. It is God caring for our very ordinary and mundane needs. This “daily bread” should lead us out of fear based “fire insurance” religion and point us toward a caring and loving God.
The Old Testament is full of examples of the bread symbol. The manna in the desert, the miraculas feeding of the hundred, and the woman and her son. In the New Testament we have Jesus feeding the multitudes, the breaking of the bread after the road to Emmaus, and of course the Last Supper which unites the symbols of bread and blood. This becomes our Eucharist, the sacrament in which we are fed our spiritual food by God, where we come into “communion” with Him. The Bible ends with a wedding feast, a sure call for union.
So we have water, the first call to a life in union. Then blood, which symbolizes the hard price for union. Then we have bread, the ongoing feeding of that union. Watch for these sign posts throughout the Bible as they will lead you deeper into union with God, who is always inviting, challenging, and consoling.