Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Supper as Sacrifice? 

Peter Leithart writes:—

...study of the book of Leviticus has become a growth industry in Old Testament studies. This has produced a more nuanced and precise understanding of the nature of sacrifice in the Bible, which is essential background for grasping the significance of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Two points will illustrate how this might affect the theology of the atonement. Old Testament sacrifices were indeed expiations, cleansing sin through the death of a substitute, but that was only one moment of a larger sacrificial sequence. After being killed, the animal was transformed into smoke to ascend to heaven and its flesh was given to the worshiper as food, and that whole ritual comes under the rubric of sacrifice. Biblically, to speak of Jesus’ work as “sacrificial” means not only that He was put to death for our sins; Christ’s “sacrifice” embraces His resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and even Eucharist. To speak of Christ’s sacrifice is to say that He achieved atonement by passing through death into the presence of His Father. Second, sacrifice is a liturgical act, and if the atonement was sacrificial, then it was an act of worship. How does an act of worship by the Incarnate Son atone for sin? Exploring this question may bring us close to Thomas Aquinas, who taught that Christ’s supreme act of reconciling obedience was a supreme and redeeming Eucharist. Jesus’ main explanation of His death occurred at the Last Supper, and that may be more significant than Protestants, at least, have realized.

Read the rest of Leithart's article, entitled 'Cross and Culture: Sacrifice and the Redemption of Society', here. Biblically speaking, I believe that the Eucharist is sacrificial (in a number of respects) and I think that it is generally only ignorance of what the Bible means by sacrifice that holds us back from admitting this.

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