Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sacrifice

In ancient history, and not too far back in our own history, the concept of sacrifice was one that people lived with every day. Whether folks were farmers or hunter/gatherers, great work and effort went into growing, nurturing and raising an animal or hunting one down and killing it with rather primitive means--by today's standards anyway.

To kill a buffalo or cow or sheep was no small thing. This animal represented wealth, prosperity and often protection and clothing and so much more. Killing the animal was either symbolically or literally a sacred affair. For the animistic American Indians, the hunt and kill was ritualized. For the farmer, the protection of the flock and the kill, were life and death decisions--for the humans.

When you have starved or been without food for a while against your will, the food can take on mythical proportions. It is a manifestation of God's beneficence when food grows and sustains you. It is a measure of your wickedness when sustenence is lacking. The Deity that blesses you with berries and grain and rain and animal receives high honor. The Deity that curses you with empty bellies receives supplication and repentence and fear and respect.

God gives. God takes away.

Few Americans know empty bellies. Even the "poor" suffer from non-nutritive fatness and could use a slimming diet--also known as fruits and veggies.

Few Americans think about the animal that was killed so the prime rib or filet can be enjoyed. Not having to personally feed it, protect it, breed it, birth it, the animal is reduced to rendered parts.

Americans need to get back in touch with history and the rituals that were once part of their lives. Why? Because part of the Judeo-Christian heritage is understanding Christ's sacrifice through the sacrifice of an animal.

In Jewish times, tithes and offerings and sin sacrifices were made by people, most of whom brought their own treasured animals to the altar. God expected the best sacrifices, too. So people weren't bringing their diseased, nappy-lookin', sad-sack beast. They brought the best. The lamb that they named and hand-fed to fatness, was slaughtered. The prized bullock that could have sired a herd of prized cattled saw the chopping block. The first, most tender fruits of their grains and corns and figs and grapes and honey was given for God's service.

Those who have been to the Rodeo here in Houston (and everyone should experience this, it is quite something) will remember the young people showing their prized animal and hoping it gets judged "best in show". These competitions mean scholarship money, and pride and much accomplishment. But there is sadness, too. These children raise and love these animals and care for them as pets. And these animals are doomed. Some children are crushed. Many are resigned to the eventualities.

Our daily lives no longer revolve around the rituals of harvest and birthing season and slaughter and hunting. Our lives are no longer dictated by knowing the moon phases and counting time by what's in the field and how ripe it is now. This is a shame really.

People no longer connect the everyday with the sacred or the sacred with the everyday. When a woman gives birth, it might be the first time she's seen a head crown ever--she has not even witnessed an animal birthing. When a man buys a steak, rarely has he fed the animal and slaughtered it himself or walked the woods stalking his prey with only a spear. The depth and breadth of modern man's experiences with these ancient rites of passage can be found in cold institutions--hospitals and supermarkets--designed to remove people from the sacred experiences.

Ancient Israelites, starting in Egypt, made the connection between their animals, their lives and their relationship to God. It was concrete. Direct.

A blessed havest meant a big tithe to God--FIRST. A small harvest meant a little tithe to God--FIRST. God was thanked big and small. All good came from God.

A harvest celebration meant an offering to God from the heart, a sacrifice of thanks. It wasn't the sacrifice as much as the heart that mattered. God wanted hearts turned to Him.

Forgiveness for sins meant an animal sacrificed to God. This served two purposes: one, the loss of the animal because of the sinners stupidness hurt the sinner economically. Hopefully, this deterred more sin. Two, the loss of the animal was a gain for those who admistered the government and was shared with the poor. Since those who governed, the Levites, couldn't own land of their own (unlike the fat, happy government we have who are almost all independently wealthy) they had to stay humble about who they served. Without them, they'd starve, too. So they really, really wanted God to bless the common people.

When Jesus Christ walked the earth, the Jews and even the Romans (pagans though they were), knew about sacrifices. They knew about the animal paying for a sin they committed. They got what sacrifice meant.

After Jesus, the perfect lamb, unspotted, unbroken, without sin, without blemish, white and utterly pure, died and the sacrifice was pointed out to the people by Peter, people were horrified at what had been done. In visual, ritualistic, graphic detail they understood what a great price the sacrifice.

Sometimes it seems that modern society is so fragmented, so removed from the natural ebbs and flows and rhythms of life, that the sacrifice of Jesus in this spring season creeps upon us like a surprise. In Israel, it wouldn't be so. The harvest reminded everyone--the wheat, the barley in the field. Celebrations. And serious reflections upon sin would bring Jesus' sacrifice alive in tangible, literal ways.

There are ways to bring the sacred into the every day, so that the memorial of Jesus' death isn't just a 24-hour experience but a reminder woven throughout daily living:

  1. Tithe. Give to God in good years and bad. Thank Him first for the blessings you enjoy.
  2. Offer thanks. When especially blessed, give God a chunk.
  3. Pray. Before eating any meal, and especially one where meat is enjoyed, give thanks to God and Jesus, too, for the sacrifice that keeps you alive. That animal died so you could live physically. Jesus died so you could live spiritually. Honor that.
  4. Live a conscious life. Each moment is a gift and one not to be taken lightly. Redeem the time and live honorably and stop doing the self-and other-destructive things that interfere with your life mission. Jesus didn't die so you could slowly kill yourself. He died so you could live and live abundantly.
Bring the sacredness of this sacrificial season into your daily life.

Many blessings and peace to all of you during this holiest of seasons!

2 comments:

Christy're said...

Well said! But I wonder sometimes if the act of killing is a sacred or profane event. Genesis would have us living as vegetarians first but for our desire for meat. I took a class in Genesis and discussed this issue a lot, and it has always perplexed me. That being said, I'm from Kansas, and my neighbors kept cattle, horses, goats, chickens, and the livestock was kept for eating. The horses and dogs were kept for managing the rest of the livestock. It's a different world when the cows have names--but we ate them just the same. Being exposed to the circle of life doesn't make you fear it, it makes you appreciate it. But I like how you said it better.

I really enjoy reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

The cross, burial and resurrection of Jesus is so rich in meaning that it truly derserves some time to contemplate and meditate on this wonderful Easter Season.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I am so thankful that we can touch Him through our prayers. The veil has forever been torn through the sacrifice of Jesus and then His glorious resurrection. Nothing stands between us and God. What a thought!

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"

"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord". Rom.8

"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Where the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
~Isaac Watts

Thanks for this post! Wishing you and your family a very blessed Easter!
~vj