Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Atoning Sacrifice

Christians believe that the story of Christ expands the meaning of Hebrew Scripture. For example, the First Letter of John (2:2) says that Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
We understand better how Christ is the atoning sacrifice by turning to the Book of Leviticus which in Scripture has the biggest collection of ritual & sacrificial teachings especially for the priests of the tribe of Levi.

One reads: “When any human comes near to sacrifice to Yhwh...” (Lev 1:2). Yakriv (Heb: come near) has the same root (k-r-v) as korban (Heb: sacrifice). Thus, “a the means by which we draw near to God & God draws near & is drawn near to us” (Shoshana Gelfand).

The offerer laid his hand on the animal’s head, as an act of identification, & slaughtered it himself (1:4-5). Then “the priests shall bring the blood & sprinkle it against the altar.”
“Since the layman has identified himself with the animal, & since the altar represents God, the sprinkling of the blood around the altar is symbolic of the union of the offerer & God; one life (blood) flows between God & the offerer” (Marcel Gervais).
Thus, for a believer, to drink Christ’s blood especially in the Eucharist is to be united with his life & mission of sacrifice.

In Leviticus (1:7-9), the priests burn the victim’s remains on the altar as “an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”
“The (burnt offering) represents the kind of flaming passion in which the individual is totally consumed by the relationship with the other” (Gelfand). At least one can say that, if you want to respond to God’s call to come near (the fire of divine love), you sacrifice (& get ready to have burns).
Unfortunately, many Christians want to enjoy the benefits of divine love without undergoing the requisite sacrifice. As one Hiligaynon proverb puts it:
Kon diin ang luto, didto ang sunggo;
Kon diin ang hilaw, didto ang likaw.
(Once cooked, all gather,
but for the cooking, all evade.)

In Leviticus (1:9), the burnt offering is turned into smoke that rises as “an aroma pleasing to Yhwh.”
“The pleasant odor that rises from the burning victim represents the offerer himself rising to God & being accepted by God as pleasing. The goal of the sacrifice is atonement, i.e. at-one-ment, union of the offerer & God.” (Gervais)
Leviticus helps us understand better this Christian proclamation: “Christ loved us & gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering & sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2).

Christ is the Atoning Sacrifice because he kept faith in the nearness of the loving Father despite the hellish foulness of Golgotha, where he was unjustly executed, demonized by his enemies, forsaken by his friends & besieged by the sheer silence & seeming absence of the Father.

Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins because his cry on the cross & last breath, or the complete Spirit he yielded, enable sinners, even the foulest kind, to discover the mysterious nearness of God in the depths of themselves, within their individual & collective bodies, and to return or go deeper into this fragrant mystery.

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