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Sacrificing Sacrificial Death

Given what we have discussed about the symbolism of blood as life, I want to turn the tables around a bit and revise the traditional way of thinking about existence and say with confidence that sacrifice relates more to life than to death. Two "rogue" French philosophers help me make my main point. Jacques Derrida, writing at the end of his life, agrees with my table-turning exercise, opting instead for an existence that "survives-until-death." Paul Ricoeur also explicitly critiques Heidegger's nomenclature in favor of one of his own, that humans are "beings-until-death." I, however, do not think that Ricoeur and Derrida have turned their tables far enough around. Their perspective, although improved, still betrays a vitality and a joy of life in the face of death. Instead, I turn my tables a little further, to the point of saying that we are "beings-toward-abundant-life." Not only does this focus on life positively affirm our existence and its significance, but it also reinforces the gravity and importance of sacrifice.

If "to sacrifice" means "to make or do something holy," then making a gift of one's life constitutes a holy act, because life itself is holy. A life-giving sacrifice, then, is not to make a gift of death but, instead, to set apart, for a purpose, life as living, the continuation of existence as an unceasing, living gift to others; that is, both the life of the one offering the sacrifice and also the life of the beneficiary of the sacrifice are holy or set apart for God's purposes.

I truly believe that an adequate interpretation of the Bible will support the above notion of the holiness of one's life as sacrifice, especially in the Gospels, which narrate the life-giving actions of Jesus of Nazareth. We seem traditionally to concentrate on the death of Jesus to the neglect of focusing on his life as the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, Jesus' entire existence was lived as a sacrifice for others. He lived in order to reveal to others the way toward abundant life. He set himself apart for a divine purpose and lived among us in order to reveal the love of God to the world. He worked to direct the downcast, marginalized, and oppressed toward the God who gives life abundantly through forgiveness and reconciliation.

Ultimately, Jesus' living sacrifice eventually led him to his death on the cross. He finished living his life as a sacrifice, revealing to the masses the otherworldly love and mercy of God.

Although we have evidence that Jesus' life pleased God, his purpose was not to appease God, but to reveal the way for us to partner with God in fulfilling the divine plan for creation. That very sacrifice gave us a life to live into, an example to imitate, that now sets us apart for a purpose. We live as "beings-toward-abundant-life," just as Jesus did. Consequently, with Jesus as our example, we now make our own sacrifice by living holy lives for the benefit of others, spreading the love of God with the good news of divine mercy and forgiveness.

A well-known verse in Romans describes the process of sacrificial living-toward-abundant-life, urging believers, by the mercies of God, to present their bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which serves a form of worship. Of course, we do not take this exhortation literally by lying around on altars shedding our own blood in worship to God in order to appease an angry deity. Instead, Paul gets right to the point of the true meaning of sacrifice. We present our entire body, mind, and soul to God and submit our lives to holy service, in partnership with God, which according to the verse in Romans, is a type of "worship." In giving our lives as living and holy sacrifices, we worship God and give life to others by loving them as God loves us. In this manner, we not only exist as beings-toward-abundant-life ourselves, but we also lead others into a new kind of life as well.

This personal and communal sacrifice does not necessitate the violence of taking a life or shedding literal blood. It requires that we live our lives dedicated to a mutual partnership with the God we worship — a devotion that manifests itself by the love and compassion we have toward others, even toward those who do not think and believe as we do. And this is where Christianity and the world's other major religions find common ground. At the heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the call to love God and to love others. We are all exhorted to give authentic life to each other through acts of kindness, mercy, and love regardless of race or religion, gender or economic status. So in the face of a world seemingly falling apart at the seams, try to imagine a world in which all people of all faiths lived their lives according to the precepts set down by their own religion, as beings-toward-abundant-life, according to the heartbeat of love. It sounds like an impossible, albeit a holy, dream.

4/13/2016 4:00:00 AM