Anyone who has read any of my now 4 Easter posts (and some said this blog wouldn't last 90 days) knows I'm not exactly comfortable with the transactional theology that has Jesus being a substitutional atoning sacrifice to "pay for" everyone's sin. Jesus has to be more than that. And if God's love is pure, freely given, unlimited, timeless, and universally offered, there wasn't/isn't anything to pay for. However, as a first century Jew, Jesus was born into a religion deeply steeped in the historical significance of sacrifice. And there is no denying that Jesus' life and death in the first century would have been understood in that context.
Going back to his birth, the gospel of Luke records that the angels appeared to shepherds when announcing the birth of Baby Jesus...in his golden fleece diapers. Have you ever wondered why it was shepherds? Was it random, symbolic, part of the plan? And what in the world do shepherds have to do with sacrifice?
In first century Judea, lambs were often sacrificed in the temple. However, the best sacrificial lambs had to be the first born. This tradition dated back to the original Passover, the night of the last plague against Pharaoh explained here, when the firstborn in every household in Egypt was spared from death if their door posts and lintel were sprinkled with the blood of a firstborn lamb. Henceforth, shepherds played an important function in this tradition as they were assigned to tend flocks of sheep, some of which were used in the temple for sacrifices. Shepherds were the eye witnesses to which lambs were first born. So when the "Lamb of God" was born, the angel went to those whose job it was to witness firstborn lambs.
That brings us full circle back to the Passover, as Jesus' trial and execution by crucifixion occurred during the Passover celebration. Again, was this random, symbolic or part of God's continuing redemption story? I doubt it was random, as sacrifice had been man's natural and awestruck response to God since the sacrifices offered by Cain and Able recorded here and Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac recorded here.
So, obviously sacrifice is important. It's one of the fundamental tenets of all the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). As Christians, we know that it's an essential part of any serious attempt to live a disciplined and Christ-like life, but I'm still not buying into the theology of substitutional atonement.
Christ put an end to the need for sacrifices, not because he was the ultimate sacrifice, but because he was/is The Way. He's the way that looks forward, not backward. I don't remember Jesus commanding us to thank him. I believe the commandment was to follow him. As Richard Rohr writes, "The gospel is not transactional, it's transformational." The prophet Jeremiah predicted this would happen about 600 years before Christ's resurrection. You can read all about it here.
Easter is the story of resurrection, of Christ's victory over sin and death. Yes, the same sin and death that has separated us from God since we acquired the knowledge of good and evil. It's the same sin and death that is conquered not with a sacrifice but with love, a love to which we respond in faith and which ultimately requires sacrificial love. But it's not the other way around. At least not to me.
He was dead and is alive, and that's the plan for all of us, as in ALL of us. Thanks be to God.