Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Significance of the Supreme Sacrifice-Food for thought during the Lenten Season

When I went to Church today for Sunday Mass, it was the second Sunday before Easter. The good Pastor, Revd. Sunil Ghazan talked at length about the significance of the impending death of Christ on the Cross and its implications for all of us. The good Pastor started his sermon with the words, ‘Life comes after Death.’ The Call for the worship was from the Book of John,12.23-24 and read, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ Jesus clearly acknowledges this to be the case.
The idea of life after death, reconstruction after destruction, and regeneration have been present within the human psyche since time immemorial. The myth of the Phoenix is a wonderful pagan myth that highlights the theme of new birth after death with the Phoenix ending its life in flames only to rise reborn and new from the ashes of its former self. P.B.Shelley’s Poem, Ode to the West Wind is an attempt to compare life with the cycle of seasons where if Autumn is equated with death, then Spring is definitely the season of birth, rebirth, or revival. Jesus’s decision to offer himself as a sacrificial lamb to be put upon the cross goes however beyond any example no to mankind where the Son is ready to sacrifice himself for the redemption of Mankind, that too in Obedience of his Father’s instructions! Nor have we seen any other Father, both mortal or in a deified form who went so far as to sacrifice his own Son for the sake of the welfare of the whole Mankind! The Old Testament does describe how Abraham was ready to sacrifice his Son Isaac, but then his hand was stayed at the last moment, thus preventing the human sacrifice that  was destined  to take place later.
But then the question still remains, and that is, what was the reason for Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross all those days back? To examine this question, one can start with the more immediate reason which was that Caiaphas one of the leading Jewish Priests was worried about the growing popularity of Jesus and so he suggested to the other priests that he should die. Well this was apparently a more immediate political reason. This is however not the real reason for the greatest sacrifice known to all mankind. The real reasons behind the need for Jesus’ Crucifixion on the cross have been mentioned in the Old and New Testament well before Jesus was even born, and one example is Gabriel appearing before Mary telling her that her son should be called, ‘Jesus’. Jesus talks about his being the Way to the Father in the days preceding his Crucifixion and he assures his Disciples not to be worried and upset since, ‘ “I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. You know the way that leads to the place where I am going…I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.”-John 14.2-4,6. Jesus apparently wanted to tell his disciples that he had to go to prepare a place for them. His impending death on the cross was a necessary to bring in a new world order, a new world that was based on the idea of God as a forgiving God, and not the Vengeful God of Adam and Eve! Jesus wanted tell his disciples about a journey he had to make in order to secure for them and all mankind, an opportunity for redemption, salvation and forgiveness from the original sin for all those who were willing to acknowledge this supreme sacrifice, and repent.
That his death was a necessity has already been described by Jesus to his disciples. Death was not an ending of life as we know it, but rather a journey into another form of life, a spiritual and lasting life as opposed from a more physical and temporal form. In many ways this reminds me to some extent of the process of metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly. This is an awe inspiring process in which a creepy, crawling bug or a worm is transformed into a thing of beauty, something so delicate with such an intricate design on its wings that only God could have made for our benefit. The process of moulting and transformation would have been very painful for the caterpillar, but then the end was probably worth it! Part of The Thanksgiving, Section 29 of the Order of The Lord’s Supper reads,’Through him you have freed us from the slavery of sin, giving him to be born as man, to die upon the cross, and to rise again for us; Through him you give your holy and life-giving Spirit, to make us your children and the first-fruits of your new creation.’ It is clear Jesus’s death on the Cross was essential for the Advent of a new world order, a ‘new creation’ a world free from the shackles of the Original Sin, it might be equated to some extent with the process of Metamorphosis of the Caterpillar into something new and much more beautiful. I would like to quote from a portion of Section 33 of the Order of The Lord’s Supper in support of this need for an Immaculate Sacrifice, ‘we celebrate and proclaim his perfect sacrifice made once for all upon the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven; and we look for his coming in glory.’ Jesus’ resurrection as opposed to the re-incarnation  celebrated in some religions is an affirmation of newness of life, newness of purpose, and a new creation-a complete transformation of lives, it is as if one is born again!
The very Church (the people of the new faith) after the resurrection was symbolic of this process of transformation, the process of metamorphosis.The new believers all belonged to the Jewish Religion. They were Jews, and yet they had undergone the process of transformation to be born anew as the followers of the messiah, Christians as they began to be called. The initial years of the Christians were difficult years as they were full of persecution, tribulation and afflictions especially as the followers were viewed as Pariahs in the land of their birth. These years might be viewed as the birth pangs the precede the birth of a child. The very Church came into existence because of the ultimate and supreme sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Herein lies the significance of the Crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross-it was in order to bring salvation and forgiveness to all, it was in order to usher in a new world order, it was about a ‘new creation’ a freshness a revival that would bring back new life, new hope, and spirituality into the lives of people all over the world! It was about giving birth to a beautiful Butterfly, a testament of God’s Love for all mankind. In its  perfect form, this perfect Sacrifice was that highest kind of Sacrifice, a father sacrificing his beloved son for the salvation and upliftment of all mankind.

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