‘One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.’ John 19:34
This one verse of John’s gospel could be overlooked simply as the last bit of punishment inflicted on Jesus’ body by the soldiers. But there is more to it than what it is explicitly said here by the evangelist. The blood and water that collected in Jesus’ chest before his death are a further, visible testimony of his suffering. As Jesus struggled in pain, as he was forced by the nails to maintain the uncomfortable position of the crucifixion, the exertion of his agony meant that fluids quickly gathered in his chest, compromising, oppressing his breathing and eventually causing his death.
The Lord of life died willingly but he did not die easily.
Behind this testimony to Jesus’ sufferings there is another layer of meaning. With these simple words John makes a powerful connection between the death of Jesus and a defining moment of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, when Moses struck the rock in the desert and suddenly out of this rock came forth water to rescue the people of Israel from the brink of death by dehydration (Cf. Numbers 20:11).
The blood and water are, of course, the greatest gifts of the Church; the Eucharist and at Baptism – two ways in which we have to approach our crucified Lord to find life. The pierced side of Jesus, this wound that reaches deep into his Sacred Heart, becomes the fountain of our healing in his blood, and the well from which we are able to draw the water of life.
‘One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.’
And yet again we find a further layer of meaning pointing us towards Easter. Unlike the other evangelists, John does not describe the curtain of the temple being torn in two to reveal the place where the Mercy’ Seat used to be. No; John sees Jesus as the new temple, so it is Jesus’ flesh, the core part of his body, which is ripped revealing God’s mercy. The pierced side of Jesus, is the fulfilling of Ezekiel’s vision when he said, I saw ‘water flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east; and the water was flowing down …south of the altar.’ (Ezekiel 47:1) and wherever this water flowed it brought life.
Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in thy tide,wash me with waters gushing from thy side.