First Thoughts: Sacrifices

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Everyone’s lives around the world have been dramatically transformed in a very short period of time. All of us are shaken by the speed and severity of these changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Normal life is on hold, including our Holy Week and Easter services.

We all have different experiences as to how the global health crisis is impacting our lives. Some of us are self-isolating, some of us will be putting our health at risk by continuing to work, some of us will be looking after children who would have otherwise been at school, some of us might have lost our businesses and livelihoods, some of us might be ill. 

Our situations are so different, but there is a common thread that weaves throughout them all, and that is the need to make personal sacrifices. We all have to make sacrifices at this time; we all have to give something up for the greater good. We are sacrificing our freedoms to socialise, earn money, travel, go the gym, study, eat in restaurants and live enjoyably as we used to, and we are doing this so that the most physically vulnerable in our society can be saved.  

The importance of sacrifice is deeply rooted in our Christian tradition, although not always well understood. In the Old Testament, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his precious son Isaac, because he thought it was the will of God. In the Exodus story the Lord tells the Israelites to sacrifice lambs without blemish, and put the blood on the door posts and lintels, so that when death came to the Egyptians it would pass over the people of God.

Sacrificial Worship

There is, in the Old Testament, the whole Jewish sacrificial system of worship, with burnt offerings, guilt offerings, sin and peace offerings, as ancient humanity struggled to find ways to connect to the divine. Jesus, in his life, modelled for us the necessity to make sacrifices, but it was not animal blood that he offered to God. He kicked over tables in the temple and put an end to all that. God doesn’t require dead doves or bulls, but the gift of ourselves.

Jesus spent his life sacrificing himself for others, in his ministry of healing, teaching and loving service. He sacrificed wealth, worldly power, a family life and security, so that he could give himself away. And of course, ultimately he poured out his life on the cross, a journey we share with him as we move towards Easter. 

There is a profound exchange that happens in the act of sacrifice. Something has to die for something bigger to be born. 

The fruits of sacrifices

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” says Jesus in John’s Gospel. We are asked to step beyond our small selfish needs and to put others first. In so doing we become part of something glorious. 

Mother Teresa wrote: 

“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourselves fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.”

Already we are seeing how God is accomplishing great things with our sacrifice. Precious lives are being saved because we are staying at home. Local communities are coming together and we are getting to know our neighbours as never before. Some people are relishing the time to slow down and live more simply. Others point to the way that pollution levels have dropped. 

Many of us, myself included, are having to find new ways to communicate using new technologies. Our situation is tragic and difficult, but we can trust that our sacrifice at this time will become a God filled creative force, and out of the tomb of this Covid-19 experience there will be a resurrection. 

Revd Jane