Wednesday Word: Sacrifice
Bp. Sutton recently led a gathering of western clergy at All Saints, Frederick. Before the gathering he assigned a book called, Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now, by Sally A. Brown, for us to read ahead of time. At only 140 pages it's not a very big book, but it is incredibly deep and thought-provoking. In short, Brown addresses the issue of the crucifixion of Jesus, the centrality of that event in Christianity, and how we deal with and talk about how that violent death offers a pathway to life. As I said, it's an incredibly deep book.
How do we as Christians talk about life, death, sacrifice, violence, atonement, redemption, and life? Where do people in general develop both communal and individual theories of atonement? Is Jesus a personal savior, or is he the savior of the world? What does it mean when we say, “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”?
Does sacrifice always require death?
Brown touches on a variety of theories and theological interpretations, but the one I found most intriguing was her discussion about sacrificial living over and above sacrificial dying. One example of this is parents who live sacrificially for the betterment of their children – working extra hours in order to create a college savings account, for instance.
Viewed in this way, the totality of Jesus' life was one continual life-giving sacrifice. Paul discusses the sacrifice of Christ in Philippians 2:6-8: “. . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” And while Paul does bring up the crucifixion, the point he is making is that it was the life of Christ that was a complete sacrifice.
Brown picks up on this thought when she says, “. . . it is the whole of Jesus' embodied life that is sacrificial. It is in Jesus' willingness to be clothed in flesh to live his life as a consistent, sacrificial offering of his whole being to God, by which Jesus makes whole the communion of human beings with God.”
Every Sunday we gather in worship and come to the rail to receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, that Sacrament which provide us with abundant life. Eucharistic Prayer C reads in part, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Holy Communion is the life-giving sacrifice that provides us with strength and renewal. Holy Communion is the life-giving sacrifice that allows us to participate in the life of Christ.
We are in the midst of Easter season, the time we celebrate Christ's life-giving victory over death. With that in mind, what would it mean for us individually, corporately, and, more importantly, for those around us if we, like Jesus, offered our selves, our souls, and our bodies as living sacrifices?