Good Friday and the Language of Sacrifice
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Shouldn’t it be called “Bad” Friday?
It was a horrible thing that we human beings killed our own creator. He came to us in lowly form, as a poor baby in a manger. He taught, he healed, he preached, he loved, he forgave. And not in spite his grace and love, but because of it, we could not bear him. He so radically challenged our fallen human system, that we had to get rid of him. He had to be sacrificed.
And yet he offered himself up as a sacrifice. No one could force Jesus to go the cross. He gave himself up…for us. In order to prove to us that we do not need to appease him with our sacrifices, our God, the Christian God, came to live among us. He gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice. It is finished. How stronger can God say to us that we don’t need to sacrifice ourselves and our children to appease him? He came here and let us sacrifice himself! Nothing is left for us to sacrifice on earth. We’ve even sacrificed God.
Why would God enter our world, be a human, and then allow us to kill him? It really sounds barbaric to many ears today. It sounds barbaric because our Christian faith itself teaches us that we should not kill. It teaches us that we don’t need to sacrifice our children, as our pagan ancestors did. It teaches us that God does not demand appeasement. “I do not desire sacrifice or delight in the blood of bulls and goats.”
So why the need to walk through the crucifixion on Good Friday? Why do we revisit the sacrifice of Jesus every Sunday during communion? Why not excise all this talk of blood and sacrifice?
During the reformation in England, the reformers were tempted to do just that. They noticed that people believed that the priest was re-sacrificing Jesus on their behalf in every Eucharist. They worried that people would forget that the ultimate sacrifice had already been made. And yet when they looked at Scripture, they saw the language of sacrifice everywhere, including the New Testament. What to do? Cranmer solved this conundrum when he noticed that the Old Testament included two types of sacrifice. One was the once-a-year sacrifice on the day of atonement, for the sins of the people. The other was a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”. He added the phrase “of praise and thanksgiving” after “sacrifice” to the liturgy to retain the sacrificial language, and also to remind us that we are not re-sacrificing Christ. We are, instead, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving as we participate once again in his once-for-all sacrifice. We receive his body and blood just as in OT times the priests would consume the food from the sacrifices.
But this all still leaves us wondering why it is so important to talk about the cross on Good Friday and every Sunday. Aren’t we past all this sacrifice stuff? Who is tempted to sacrifice their children, or an animal, or some other bloody sacrifice nowadays?
Actually, we are all deeply tempted every day to sacrifice ourselves, our children, our everything to appease “the god.” It is a deep part of our fallen human nature. Every human being deeply senses that he must appease the god. Sacrificing to appease the god is as old as human history. It is who we are, it is what we do.
In today’s world, we may have turned away from the “bloody sacrifices” of our ancestors (although some would say our modern warfare indicates we haven’t). Our addictions prove we still offer our bodies up to the god. But even when we don’t kill our physical bodies, we offer our souls, our children, our careers, our sexuality – anything – to stop the sounds of shame, guilt, and fear, or to satisfy the ruthless demands of pride. Anything to stop it! Appease the god!
Even as Christians who know the Gospel, and who believe in God’s unmerited grace, we are tempted to sacrifice ourselves to earn his favor or trust. Go to church on Sunday, live a holy life, stop being a grouch, etc. All good things, but they are so easily turned into sacrifices to appease the God. Human cultures have sacrificed everything we are, everything we have. St Paul says that ultimately we believe we are sacrificing to God, but in reality we are sacrificing to the demonic. God does not require our sacrifices.
So on Good Friday, we once again represent Christ crucified. We will not remove the language of sacrifice from Good Friday, Eucharist, or our faith. We love people too much for that. The Gospel of Christ crucified calls to the deepest need of all humans to rest in God, to know that he had done it, and we look to him and are saved.
May Christ guide you this Holy Week to a blessed Easter of Resurrection, as you pass through Good Friday on the way.
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