Living Sacrifice

3/16/03
Jn. 12:20-33
Lent 5

Last week when I was up at the hospital, two women stepped out of the elevator and said hello to me. I recognized the older woman, but could not remember her name. I had met her fifteen years ago when her husband was dying. His had been a protracted illness and she had nursed him at home. She loved him dearly and by the time he died she not only had to deal with grief but also with the fact that she was emotionally and physically spent. Her husband had no insurance coverage, so she was forced to go to work. I would see her from time to time on a street corner, at the library or in a store. She had emigrated from England and I enjoyed her accent and openness. Most of the time she was exhausted from trying to support herself and her daughter. She worried a lot about her daughter, who was actively going through adolescence and at one point moved out. So when I saw the woman I was delighted to see her and told her so. Then I asked, “How is your daughter?” My friend smiled and replied, “she’s right here.” The tall, beautifully groomed, poised woman looked at me and said, “I guess I’ve grown.” I was thrilled because the daughter was obviously solicitous of her mother and had turned into a mature adult. “You have a fine daughter,” I said to my friend. “And you have a wonderful mother,” I said to the daughter. “I know,” she replied. ‘A year or so ago I went on a job interview and they asked me who my hero was. I said, ‘My mother,’ and then cried. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but it is true. She is my hero.” “You are both blessed,” I said “and take good care of your mother. We need all the heroes we can get.” They smiled and we parted company.

Now I tell this story because it is about sacrifice. Although my friend had sacrificed for her husband, she also sacrificed for a long time for her daughter. She had prayed hard and worked hard so that her daughter would have a chance at turning out okay. The daughter recognized that her life was changed by the sacrifices of her loving parent.

Sacrifice gives meaning to life. The Greeks who came to Jesus in today’s Gospel story would have understood the stoicism of my friend. The Jews would have understood her piety. But for the early Christians there is a profound dimension to sacrifice as well. The author of John sets the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Gentiles in the context of the Passover. The Passover festival commemorated the release of Jews from the bondage of slavery by the Egyptians and early on included the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb. In that sacrifice the sins, failure and guilt of the Jews, collectively and individually, were laid upon the lamb. The priests, the Levites, were the agents of mediation between the people and God. When Jesus foretells of His own crucifixion, He is embracing the traditions of the ministry of the prophets, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the apocalyptic Son of Man of Daniel and I Enoch as He takes upon Himself the role of the sacrificial Paschal Lamb. Through His sacrifice the sins of the world (yours and mine) are absorbed and the forgiveness of God is made apparent. This means that the grip of evil and death are not the last word. The struggle is won. Cosmic powers are realigned and there is the promise of eternal life. In short, the familial sacrifices of parents, as well as those of society, are affirmed and lifted beyond the merely human level of stoicism and piety.

The requiem which we hear today embraces the deep reality of sacrifice: that it is a profound, fearsome and a fierce struggle. (It is never a walk in the park.) The music gives us a vision of this dramatic struggle - the awesome event of the powerful, otherworldly intervention of God into the realm of our all too human condition.

Sacrifice gives meaning to life. It is the sacrifice of Christ, as the Paschal Lamb, that gives meaning to our life. You and I are called by Christ to a life of sacrifice. We find our life by losing it because Christianity is a life to be lived, not just a set of concepts to be intellectually held. Through sacrifice we find meaning. But we are not left to our own devices. You and I are fed by the sacraments, which sustain us in a life of meaningful sacrifice.

The requiem ends with the Paradisum, words of praise and thanksgiving, “Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy (sic. heavenly) city Jerusalem.” BCP p.484. These words are a joyful explosion of thanksgiving and affirmation. They are an affirmation that you and I live no longer in a world of hopelessness and chaos, but through sacrifice, Christ’s and ours, in the world of God?s Kingdom where there is profound hope, compassion, and meaning - the salvation of our souls. Through sacrifice Christ brings us the promise and guarantee of new and eternal life. At the gates of heaven may God say, “Yes, you’ve grown.” Amen.