In The Blood of the Redeemer we gaze out of a tiled sanctuary, past Christ and the balustrade—a version of altar-rails—and to the landscape beyond.
Along a winding path walk a figure in dark clothes and a smaller attendant, from the ruined town on the right to the city on the left, just touched with the pink rays of dawn. The path will bring them to the foot of the platform on which Christ stands. Their route from desolation to the new day is via Christ and his redeeming blood. The larger figure holds a white cloth, perhaps such a ‘pall’ as was used to cover the eucharistic vessels. He may even be meant as a Dominican, if we can take his dark blue cloak for the Dominicans’ black.
All of this still leaves us wondering, can we identify, in this mysterious scene, our own stand-point, from which we have this privileged view of Christ and of our world beyond? If we do imagine the tiled area as a church’s sanctuary, and the balustrade as its altar-rails, then the landscape is its (western) nave, and we are looking west.
Christ—both priest and victim—is standing at the east end of the church, in the place of the altar on which his death is recalled at every Eucharist. He is facing still further east, beyond the altar—and towards his own Father in heaven to whom as priest he is for all eternity offering his own blood.
Giovanni Bellini has given us the viewpoint of God.
We see here what God sees. With compassion, yes, and compunction; but above all, we see it with slowly dawning awe. The cherubs were around Christ’s calves; he has risen above them to the highest of heights. We are gazing as God gazes on Christ in the heavenly Holy of Holies where he pleads, on behalf of the world behind him, his blood of the New and everlasting Covenant.
9 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. 2For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, 4having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; 7but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. 8By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary is not yet opened as long as the outer tent is still standing 9(which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. 16For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. 19For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” 21And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; 26for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.