Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Sacrifice": something to think about....

And about which I am thinking at the moment.

The word "sacrifice" is used 285 times in the English Standard Version:  243 times in the Old Testament and 42 times in the New.

It's used thirteen times, in total, in the four Gospels and in the Book of Acts - and never once in any of these books in reference to Christ.

It is used that way, in fact, exactly twice in Paul (once in 1 Corinthians and once Ephesians) and once in Hebrews (after 17 other instances discussing the sacrificial system in the Temple).   Every other use of the word in the New Testament is a historical reference or else in the "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" vein.

So why has the Eucharist  - in the West at least, as I'm not sure about the East - been described for two thousand years as a "sacrifice" in which Christ is offered as an "oblation"?  This is, as far as I can see, an utterly minor theme in the Bible, and to my eyes at least merely a literary device.

I suppose there many be other references that don't use the word itself, and I'll have to take a look at that too.  But this is really quite puzzling to me so far....


Toni Alvarez said...

The East also has a developed doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice as is shown by this prayer from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This prayer comes from the Great Entrance and is said by the priest silently.

No one bound by worldly desires and pleasures is worthy to approach,
draw near or minister to You, the King of glory. To serve You is
great and awesome even for the heavenly powers. But because of Your
ineffable and immeasurable love for us, You became man without
alteration or change. You have served as our High Priest, and as
Lord of all, and have entrusted to us the celebration of this
liturgical sacrifice without the shedding of blood. For You alone,
Lord our God, rule over all things in heaven and on earth. You are
seated on the throne of the Cherubim, the Lord of the Seraphim and
the King of Israel. You alone are holy and dwell among Your saints.
You alone are good and ready to hear. Therefore, I implore You, look
upon me, Your sinful and unworthy servant, and cleanse my soul and
heart from evil consciousness. Enable me by the power of Your Holy
Spirit so that, vested with the grace of priesthood, I may stand
before Your holy Table and celebrate the mystery of Your holy and
pure Body and Your precious Blood. To You I come with bowed head and
pray: do not turn Your face away from me or reject me from among
Your children, but make me, Your sinful and unworthy servant, worthy
to offer to You these gifts. For You, Christ our God, are the
Offerer and the Offered, the One who receives and is distributed,
and to You we give glory, together with Your eternal Father and Your
holy, good and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages
of ages. Amen.

Caelius said...

I think the language came about precisely because of the use of sacrifice and offering in the Old Testament. The few times it's used in the Epistles are quite striking, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, let us keep the feast (I Corinthians 5:7)."

Or Hebrews 13:10-16: "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

These discussions authorized looking back and reading Jesus's death and the Eucharist that commemorated it into the OT sacrificial system.

Justin Martyr talks to Trypho about the grain offering in the Temple as a prefiguring of the Eucharist. I've also heard discussions of the shewbread as prefiguring the Eucharist and Jesus's entombment, despite the fact that Jesus's body was never anointed with the frankincense that the shewbread contained. Its purpose in Leviticus is called anamnesis in the Septuagint, suggesting parallels to "Do this in remembrance of Me..." And I could go on...

I agree with you that that the absence of sacrifice language in the Gospels is incongruous with later emphases. Jesus's most direct discussion of the purpose of his death is probably John 3:14, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." In other words, Jesus is a magical talisman that cures us from plague and spares us from the wrath of God. I think that image was too weird to survive.

I think if you asked those who believed in the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, they would point to John 17:19, "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they [the Disciples in the direct reference] also may be sanctified in truth."

Consecration's general meaning is to set apart something for sacred use. Now Jewish law had two ways of consecrating a person: as a priest (Exodus 30:30) or through the nazirite vow (likely the means by which the Prophet Samuel, who was of the line of Aaron, could enter the service of the Temple). Jesus, too, was not a descendant of Aaron or even Levi in the paternal line of his reputed father (the Gospel genealogies and Hebrews both state this directly and indirectly), but he derived his human nature from Mary (who might have been a descendant of Aaron, since her relative Elizabeth was married to a priest, Zechariah).

Jesus could have been referring to the nazirite vow, since he says in Mark 14:25 as he tastes the Eucharist wine, "I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in the Kingdom of God." And not drinking alcohol was part of the nazirite vow. He is also offered vinegar on the cross and refuses it.

But given that Jesus dies the next day, the consecration to which He refers takes on the meaning of the dedication of a sacrificial animal victim.

bls said...

Thanks, Toni and Caelius.

I did find a discussion on an Orthodox website about the topic. I'm not sure about the church authority behind these ideas - but some of the big early guns are quoted: St. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ephraim, Chrysostom, etc.

So it's clearly an old theme - but it seems overweighted given the Scriptural evidence. John the Baptist's "Behold the Lamb of God" seems to be a reference to the Passover lamb - which actually wasn't a sacrifice at all (or at least, that idea is not in the text itself). Christ as Passover - i.e., sign and symbol of "freedom from bondage" - seems to be the Gospel idea.

bls said...

(I think this also comes out of the early idea that Christ was the topic of the Old Testament all along.

But that's not a typical read these days, and it hasn't been for quite a while, as far as I know....)

Caelius said...

The Passover lamb was a sacrifice (Exodus 12:27). Jewish Law calls it Korban Pesach, and Korban pretty much means sacrifice.

In Jesus's day, the sacrificial nature of the Passover would have been clearer than today, where the sacrificial elements have been subsumed under the Seder rituals (it seems more like a family meal). But in Jesus's day, pious Jews would come to Jerusalem, purchase lambs killed in the very court of the Temple, and find some place in town to eat them. Hence, what is said at the end of the Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem!"

bls said...

Well, Moses is talking about the future commemoration of the event, not about the event itself. The lamb was actually dinner - food for the journey - and also a sign of freedom. There was no Law at the time! And of course, no Temple either.

And it being food makes it quite different, as far as I can see, from other animal sacrifices - i.e., Abraham's "covenant between the parts" - prior to the giving of the Law.

I am going to look more into this, though....

Toni Alvarez said...

I don't think food and sacrifice are separate discrete things. Paul talks about the partaking of the Eucharist and partaking of jewish and pagan sacrifices in parallel in 1 Cor. 10. Specifically he says, "Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?"

Here it is in fuller context.

"Therefore, my dear friends,[c] flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel;[d] are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?"

bls said...

Thanks, Toni - that's interesting. Another verse I'll need to look at!