Sacrifices

A tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies.

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14

Saul of Tarsus was born a Jew of the house of Benjamin. He was also a Pharisee. He studied under the famous and revered Gamaliel, a very learned rabbi and teacher, and learned all he needed to know to function as a Pharisee: observing strict practices and ceremonies, faithfully practicing the oral traditions and laws, believing in the afterlife and the coming of the long-promised Messiah. When he converted to became a follower of Jesus, it did not cancel out his Pharisaism but turned it in a different direction. 

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul reminded the recipients about the first Hebrew holy place – that the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually replace. In Exodus 25, Moses constructed the “first tent of meeting”, the tabernacle. This tent would contain sacred objects held in front, with a curtain separating it from the second section, known as the “Holy of Holies.” This second section contained the Ark of the Covenant and what was known as the “Mercy Seat.” Following the exodus from Egypt, Moses received the Ten Commandments. The ark was built to hold the two tablets, considered the most sacred objects in Judaism. This sacred tent was used until Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, where the ark lay in the new Holy of Holies until the fall of the second Temple in 70 A.D.

The Jerusalem Temple was the only place, according to God’s command, where sacrifices were to be made. There were four types of sacrifice, with burnt offerings being the oldest and most common. With the destruction of the second Temple, sacrifices were no longer made, ending the practice until (perhaps) a third Temple could be built in Jerusalem on Temple Mount. Many Jews are still waiting for that to happen, but strife and resentment in that part of the world seem to make that unlikely, at least in the near-term. 

Christians believe that Christ made the final necessary sacrifice. We are taught that the blood he shed on the cross atoned for the sins of humankind so that no further blood sacrifices are required. Some denominations teach that all humans are responsible for Jesus’s sacrifice and that we must all be constantly aware that each sin is like another nail in Jesus’s flesh. Other denominations remind their adherents that they commit sins for which they must repent but that Jesus’s atonement was all-encompassing. 

That is the good news that Christians have relied on for two millennia. Just as we teach children to say “I’m sorry” when they do something bad, we adults need to acknowledge when we hurt others in some way, mistreat the environment, or break one of God’s laws. If we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8b), it is much less likely we will break one or more of the Ten Commandments given to Moses. Following Micah helps heal the earth (Tikkun Olam) and bring the Kingdom of God back to the world and its people. 

We do not need a tent or an altar for sacrifice to acknowledge our gratitude to God or repent of our wrongdoings. We must remember to be grateful to God and honor Jesus’s sacrifice. Living in gratitude and seeking to bring justice would be a great start. Can we give it a chance, especially with Lent coming in the not-too-distant future?

Image: A Sacrifice Taking Place in the Tabernacle In The Wilderness, Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A sacrifice taking place in the tabernacle in the wilderness; the encampments of the tribes spread out to the horizon. Coloured lithograph. Published: -. Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.

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