Today, as promised, we look at sacrifice. We do so with story, which begins as all good stories begin, “Once upon a time....” We need to understand the context of Jesus’ life if we are to have any idea what jesus or his followers meant by suggesting we eat his body and drink his blood. So...
Once upon a time, in a land far, far way, people like you and me walked the streets of the city. This time was long before automobiles. Even horses were rare. One’s geography was restricted by how far you could walk.
Walking through the city, these people-like-us would often smell the sweet, sweet scent of burning meat: goat, bull, sheep, ram, quail, lamb. It hung in the air like sweet morning dew. And it stuck in our noses like the scent of desire.
We are peasants, living in a peasant agricultural society. The divide is great between rich and poor. The rich are few; the poor are almost everybody.
But that smell of meat: to our hungry bellies is was the clarion call to worship at the altars of the day’s gods. For this scent of meat came not from the butcher shop or the restaurant but almost always from the temples scattered throughout the city. Meat was sacrificed to the gods. These were the finest meats -- respectable and clean -- and the sacrifice invited participation from the respectable and clean.
Hungry, for our diet was primarily grain, vegetables in a good time, fish as a luxury, and meat unheard of, we would, could, and did line up at the temples we thought we could get into. Some were clearly beyond our means or relationship circles. On good days, we would get the last bits of scraps of meat. We drooled at the tables of the gods, and they gave us just enough to keep us coming back -- because we were hungry and because we wanted to appease the gods.
The Judaism of the day wasn’t much different. Until Jesus came along.
Oh, what I forgot to mention is that while we got some scraps of meat, others were never let into any ritual meal: lepers, the demon-possessed, foreigners, women, children, the homeless, street urchins, tanners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. And, of course, slaves.
This whole sacrificial system is how they kept us in place. Chaos, they said, would be the result of no worship. Rome didn’t care who we worshipped, just so we did. So they kept up the barbeque, and we kept coming. And at least we weren’t like the people who didn’t get in at all.
Then Jesus comes along and starts hanging out with these people! He says the unclean are clean and sinners are forgiven! He makes of them examples in his stories -- examples of goodness, not shame. He brings all of us a dignity we had never known before.
Then, after he’s killed, we continue to gather. We talk about his life, how he touched us, how he gave his life -- like the sacrificial meat of the temples around us. They united in a barbeque; we united in Jesus. They separated the clean from the unclean; we separated nothing. Many of us had no other group to return to.
So we stayed. And we ate a meal together. Instead of eating meat, we ate bread. The authorities were puzzled: “They gather like the rest, but they don’t eat meat.” Instead of drinking the drained blood of the sacrificial meat, we drank grape wine. We called it sacrifice because it united us and made us again realize we were and are whole and clean and beloved of God.
Yet we knew that clearly this was not a sacrifice. Jesus died on a cross, not an altar. He died battered, pierced, and torn, neither a perfect and unblemished lamb nor a virgin nor even a hero. The place of his sacrifice wasn’t anywhere near the temples’ holy of holies but rather on a rotting pile of bones outside the city.
This sacrifice was clearly an anti-sacrifice.
We called it blood. That was the language we had -- and the most powerful language. It also gave the authorities the impression that we were like the rest. But the irony was that it was never blood, like the other worshipping groups drank.
Here, it was love -- a love that included all. We could never go back.
PS: I am indebted to Dr. Stephen Patterson and his book "Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus" for many of the ideas in this message.