For the last two days we Bible Challengers have been reading about the details of the appointments for the tent of meeting, altar, and priestly vessels and vestments post Exodus event (Exodus 25-30). The details of how the walls of the tabernacle should be put together with gold and bronze clasps is interesting, albeit a bit less so than the narrative sections. I have been wondering how many times people have tried to recreate this liturgical space in the past.
Of course, in reading the account of the last supper and crucifixion alongside this, it was hard for me avoid connecting the “sanctification” of the tabernacle/altar/garments through ram’s blood with Jesus’ words accompanying the communal cup. Whether blood is “dashed on the side of the altar,” rubbed on the horns of the altar, or put on Aaron and his descendants’ right earlobes and toes, it is obvious that blood was very important to the ancient Israelite understanding of the sacred and covenant-making. A stark difference between that understanding and Jesus’ words, of course, lies in whether the blood of others (in this case animals) makes something holy or dedicates it to God, or if it is our own blood that does so. Granted, we could say that Jesus’ blood is special in this sense, and that it is not our blood but his (as the symbolic Lamb of God) which inaugurates the new covenant, and makes us and the world “holy.” I don’t know how you feel about that, but I’m interested to hear. Taking this specialness of Jesus’ blood too far has always concerned me (watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion for a taste of what I mean in terms of a grotesque fascination with Jesus’ actual blood), almost as much as animal sacrifice, as a way to please God and be in communion with the divine.
I have to admit that the more I read about the nature of worship in ancient Israel, the more distant I feel from it. I read this with the knowledge that most of my friends–Jews, Christians and otherwise– probably feel similarly. But it begs the question, how are we drawn today into a connection with the sacred…with the holy? Where do we get so lifted out of the normalcy of our lives to experience awe and wonder in community? The design of the tabernacle surely must have inspired this, and the blood of bulls and rams, along with smoking entrails and incense must have been awe-inducing indeed. We seek to approach such awe in our liturgy today…with incense and even the body and blood of Christ in Holy communion. What is the connection between awe and sacrifice here?
The implications that come from self-sacrifice (or alternatively from “other” sacrifice) are vastly different. Several of my friends have posted on their Facebook pages the youtube clip of Pastor Worley from Maiden, NC talking about how LGBT’s (or as he says, the queers and homa-sex-yuhls) should be corraled in an electrified fenced-in area, and since they can’t reproduce, they will eventually die off. I read the above mentioned parts of the Bible in conjunction with Worley’s idea (a prevalent one sadly) that “other” sacrifice will somehow make God happy and be efficacious…whether it be LGBT’s, undocumented immigrants who face deportation and the Minutemen, African-Americans facing Jim Crow legislation, the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, or countless groups who have been seen as “the others” and been targeted and “sacrificed” in thought, word or deed on the religious and cultural altars of history. For me, the defining (and awe-some) aspect of Jesus conception of sacrifice is that it does not ask us to place others upon the altar, but invites us to offer ourselves instead, and when need be, face the knife of those who would sacrifice them as “other” together, in solidarity. I think of the Muslims and Christians surrounding each other at protests in Nigeria, protecting each other from the violence they each fear will be perpetrated upon the other in the name of God. What is more awesome than that?
Which makes it doubly frustrating to see those who claim to follow Christ, and his example, so easily offering others on the altar of sacrifice, almost without conscience, or worse, with a kind of perverted joy. Loving enemies, especially ones who claim friendship with God like Pastor Worley and preach such ignorance and hatred, is a challenge indeed.
I hope and pray that God will teach me how to resist this form of other sacrifice, and give me the strength to see daily how the holiness I seek comes from giving over to God the only offering I truly have to give in this world.