Friday, March 29, 2013

An Angry God Demands a Blood Sacrifice?

     The language of the Book of Common Prayer draws the scene of the crucifixion in crimson: “O Savior of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us: Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.”  In trying to make sense of this God experience the disciples of the first century had gone through, explaining what happened to Jesus as a blood sacrifice made perfect sense.  They had lived their lives in the shadow of the blood sacrifices in the Temple on the mount in Jerusalem.  Countless animals had their blood spilled, all in an attempt to expiate their sins.  So, naturally, in sharing the message of what Jesus did for us, they turned to what everyone knew — blood atonement.

     That message is harder for us to understand in our day.  As we listen to Jesus’s commandment to love one another in the establishment of the Lord’s Supper; as we come to understand that God’s nature is love; it becomes impossible to explain away the demand of an angry God for his own son’s blood before he could forgive us.  If we understand that Scripture is not so much the final explanation for everything, as an account… a journal… of a people’s walk with God, then we understand they were doing the best they could to try and explain what they had lived and how they saw the face of God in the face of Jesus.  Today, we must try to explain our own walk with God in our own words.

     Part of every elementary school experiences learning to walk in line: you have to walk in line down to the cafeteria; you have to line up for fire drills; you have to stay in your line so you don’t run into other classes coming the opposite way in the hall.  I had a student one year just wouldn’t do it.  He was always showing off, out of line, being the class clown.  One day, we were going down to an assembly, and he was walking backwards with high steps causing his friends to laugh.  I could see clearly he was heading for a wall.  Now, he wasn’t going very fast, so I knew he wasn’t going to hurt himself, but after getting on him again and again, I decided it was time just to let natural consequences take over.  Sure enough, he walked right into the wall.  He was pretty startled, and I went over and asked, “You OK?”  He was… and he also never did that again.

     Although I knew where his choices were leading him, I didn’t cause that boy to walk into the wall.  The fact that we can see where people’s choices are going to end up isn’t the same as causing those consequences.  God and Jesus both knew where Jesus’ choices were leading him.  Living the kind of life he lived — breaking down social barriers, calling religious and civil authorities to account, defying the dog-eat-dog wisdom of his day — Jesus’ life led inexorably to the cross.  His life could end no other way.

     We have seen this in the lives of others: in retrospect, it now seems inevitable that Dr. Martin Luther King’s life of proclaiming the equal humanity of all would be ended by a bullet; it seems inevitable that Oscar Romero, who lived his life preaching justice for the poor and challenging the regime of his country, would be assassinated by his own government as he celebrated the Eucharist.  The God of Love wept as Oscar Romero’s blood mingled with the wine of the Communion.  The God of Love wept as Dr. Martin Luther King was struck down.  And I believe, our God who is love wept as Jesus hung on the cross.  God did not demand Jesus’ blood, but he knew where his life was leading… in a sense, there was no other way.

     We walk in the way of the cross, but more accurately, we walk in the way of Jesus’ life… one lived in such a way that it led to complete and utter self-sacrifice.

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