The Rev’d Matthew David Larsen

Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.

Good Friday, Year C

March 25th, 2016


“But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pieced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.”

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the 19th century, a medical doctor named J. C. Stroud explained the odd flow of both blood and water from Jesus’ body as a violent rupture of his heart. “Stroud theorized that a hemorrhage had taken place through the heart wall into the pericardial sac, there was a clotting of blood, separating it from the serum … —a convenient thesis that gives preachers the opportunity to stress that literally died of a broken heart.”[1] Another 19th century doctor theorized that the soldier had actually pierced his bladder as well and that it was urine that flowed out with the blood.[2] Doctors in the 1950’s and 60’s estimated the water probably represented serous pleural and pericardial fluid.[3] “Since the pleural cavity is just inside the rib cage, even a shallow lance thrust could have opened it and the two parts of the blood have come out relatively unmixed.”[4]

None of these theories about the dual flow of blood and water are particularly compelling to me and I can only imagine the confused and disturbed look John the Evangelist would have had on his face reading such medical speculation.

Celsus, a second century Roman opponent of Christianity, mocked that the reference to blood and water was an attempt to make Jesus look like one of the Homeric gods, whose bodies flowed not with blood but with a divine bloody watery liquid called ichor.[5] Tertullian, the 3rd century Christian apologist, said the blood and water referred to two types of baptism, normal baptism by water and baptism in the blood of martyrdom.[6] “Many church fathers … relate the [blood and water] to Gen. 2:21 where Eve is taken from the side of Adam and see … the emergence of the New Eve, the Church” (R. Brown, p. 947). Augustine, John Chrysostom and others look at the blood and water as the sacraments baptism and Eucharist. Chrysostom says, “Not without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth [from Christ’s side], but because by means of these two together the Church consists. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries take their beginning; that when you approach to that awful cup, you may so approach, as drinking from the very side.” Others understood this passage as a clear reference on utter importance of mixing water with wine at the Eucharist.[7]

John the Evangelist surely would have marveled at the creativity with which people have read his blood and water comment. So what is the blood and water really about. I don’t know that there is a meaning. Here are two thoughts, though.

First, ancient medical theory imagined a healthy body as balancing various elements, including blood and water. Blood and water are some of the most basic elements of human experience. Thomas Aquinas expresses the pre-modern way of thinking about the blood and water medically: “This outpouring of blood and water happened so that Christ might show that he was truly human. For human beings have a twofold composition: one from the elements and the other from the humors. One of these elements is water, and blood is the main humor.”[8]

I think the point is Jesus really died. The God who made humans experienced human death. The God who made the world willingly performed the act of death—an unjust death, at that, falsely accused. Brutally beaten and tortured. Henri Nouwen put it this way: “There is no suffering—no guilt, shame, loneliness, hunger, oppression, or exploitation, no torture, imprisonment, or murder, no violence or nuclear threat—that has not been suffered by God. … The Good News of the Gospel … is not that God came to take our suffering away, but that God wanted to become part of it. … the agony of the world is God’s agony. … The deepest meaning of human history is the gradual unfolding of the suffering of Christ. As long as there is human history, the story of Christ’s suffering has not yet been fully told. God indeed is Yahweh Rachamin, the God who carries [Her] suffering in [Her] womb with the intimacy and care of a mother.”

Second, everyone knows that a dead body won’t pulse blood, because the heart isn’t beating. But even more unexpected is the water. Why water? Here’s what I think.

Water and salvation belong together. Christ is never without water. He is baptized in water. He turns water into wine. He invites all who are thirsty to come and drink his living water. He commands that a cup of cold water be given to the poor. He talks to the woman at the well. He calms the stormy water. He walks on the water. He crosses the stormy sea. Water intervenes for Jesus as Pilate washing his hands. Water is about life, salvation, newness. So it should be no surprise at all that when the soldier pierces his side, what should burst forth but water? Even in dying, life flows from Christ’s body!

Tomorrow night, in the dark of the tomb of the vigil, where else would we would we look for the first signs of new life except at the font—waiting for God to breath Her life into the water? And out of that water, life. The wound pours forth healing. The scar turns into glory.




[1] R. Brown, Gospel According to John, Vol. 2, p. 946.

[2] CCP Clark, The Physical Cause of the Death of Jesus Christ, Med Rec 1890;38:543. 16; cited in

[3] Bucklin R: The legal and medical aspects of the trial and death of Christ. Sci Law 1970; 10:14-26; Mikulicz-Radecki FV: The chest wound in the crucified Christ. Med News 1966;14:30-40; Davis CT: The crucifixion of Jesus: The passion of Christ from a medical point of view. Ariz Med 1965;22:183-187. Cited in

[4] Brown, 947; citing V. Marcozzi, Gregorianum 39 (1958): 440–62.

[5] Origen, Contra Celsum 2.36.

[6] Tertullian, De baptismo 13.

[7] catena aurea John 19; accessed from

[8] Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 19, lecture 5, 2458.