I have faced my visions on sacrifice with the greatest of reluctance.
Not only do I find the subject matter completely abhorrent, but I also find it completely opaque. A literal solid of a concept. A smash-your-fist-into-it kind of solid.
For me, the concept of sacrifice is a complete circle. We have sacrificed. We have given that up. We sacrifice ourselves. We try to give that up.
We, as a culture, are both criticized for being willing and encouraged to sacrifice. Which is confusing enough. But what, exactly, is sacrifice to God?
For a while now, I’ve been thinking that I am pretty clever to align Abraham/Isaac up with Jesus for the purposes of this study. But this comparison/contrast idea between the two tales only gets me so far. Because the endings are so very different.
But I may as well start at the beginnings.
With the Old Testament sacrifice story, Abraham, the Father, leads Isaac, the Son, up the hill to his death. The Son carries his own wood with him. All is well (in terms of God), until they reach the top of the hill and Isaac wants to know what’s up.
And then we have an angel and a very handy lamb.
Did you remember to bring the the matches, Dad?
With the New Testament sacrifice story, we have Jesus stepping into both the roles of the Father and of the Son. Kind of. With Jesus being both leader and follower, both Father and Son. He is both the one who is offering the sacrifice, and is the sacrifice itself.
Or, you could see it that Jesus, the Son, bearing the wood, follows the Father (now unseen) up the hill to his own death.
At the top of the hill Jesus is combined once again: the Son with the Lamb. (The angel appeared way back in the garden, reassuring and strengthening.)
The blood of the Lamb is spilt on both occasions.
But what does this mean?
It’s not as if there aren’t a million-gazillion words written on the matter. Lamb. Blessed. Sacrifice. Holy. Salvation.
It’s like sifting through the sands on the beach trying to find just the right colored pebble.
Sometimes I think theologians hide their confusion and ineptitude under a mound of jargon.
Somebody, please just tell me what the crucifixion is all about.
So I set the elements of the two stories up side-by-side.
Old: sacrifice of the human, out.
New: sacrifice of the human, back in.
I had to admit it. I didn’t want to. But there it was: blood is let; life leaves the body.
And it’s not our imagination that makes Jesus the Lamb. No, even John the Baptist sees that in his Lord.
Abraham kills the lamb.
But who kills the Lamb?
Pontius Pilate is not a priest making a sacrifice to appease God. He may have made a decision to appease the unruly crowd, but is that a sacrifice or an accommodation?
Caiaphas, while a priest, did not see the death of Jesus as sacred. Ironic, that, I realize.
So what’s the deal?
And finally I got it.
I turned the tables around. Literally.
Man, in his desire to accommodate God, appease God, placate God, develops a system of sacrificial offerings. Almost immediately in the Bible, God puts a stop to human sacrifice. But, does this exception apply only to the chosen? Or are all men now exempt from the holy blade?
Fast forward to Jesus and there really is no getting away from the view.
Jesus bleeds. Jesus dies.
The Lamb is sacrificed.
Only it’s God now that is performing the rite.
God is the priest.
Man offers Earthly blood and body to God.
God offers Divine blood and body to Man.
In the Mass, the priest is God offering the sacrifice of His Son to us.
And not in a Hallelujia-Jesus-died-for-me gibberish kind of way. (That really translates into, Time to buy a new hat.)
The altar is now saturated not with the blood of the pidgeon or bullock, but with the blood of Jesus.
We eat his flesh. We drink his blood.
We become the participants in the very real slaughter of the sacrificial lamb.
So how does God sacrificing his own son change the concept of sacrifice? (And just think how long God had to wait to do this – until his son walked among us.)
Well, we killed the lamb as part of a bargain with God – if we do this little thing for you, Sir, will you stop the rains from overflowing the banks of the river and killing our crops?
God isn’t bargaining with us.
He’s just giving us the meat and life fluid of Jesus.
Take it, he says.
Ingest it, he says.
Because, unlike man (or perhaps like man), he is infusing us with the living serum of divinity. God is making us like him. He is fulfilling his promise at our creation that we are him on Earth: we are made in his likeness, his very image. We are given the creatures on the Earth over which to rule.
Outwardly, we are the masters of the Earth.
But it isn’t until Jesus that we become inwardly like God. That we are allowed to receive the receptiveness we need to respond to God, himself.
When man sacrifices, he is parting with something that is precious, something that is valuable to us. Our wheat. Our pig. Our daughter. It is a pure gift, meant only to enrich and please.
When God sacrifices, he is parting with something that is precious, something that is valuable to him. His Son.
His Son gives up his invulnerability. He gives up his magnificence. He gives up his ability to walk amongst us.
It’s funny. I wonder how many people would have an easier time with religion and with church if they knew that each and every time they participated in the Mass, they were facing God.
Not just the back of the priest.
Or the crucifix.
But actually God.
Encouraging us to participate in the feast that he has prepared for us.
This is for you.
This is what I do for you.