To Make Sacred

Reflections on the Stations of the Cross

Jesus Dies

This Lent I’ve been reading The Last Week, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The authors set out to put the events of Mark’s Gospel into historical context–the geography, the politics, the religious and cultural norms, and most importantly, how those areas intersect. Obviously those factors would influence not only what Jesus said and did, but what the evangelists chose to highlight when writing the Gospels.

Today I’m going to skip the personal experience and simply share something I learned from The Last Week.

The word “sacrifice” has come to be associated so strongly with the crucifixion that it has acquired an almost automatic implication of suffering and/or the idea of one person suffering so that someone else doesn’t have to.

Borg and Crossan point out that this isn’t how people at the time of Christ viewed the concept of “sacrifice.” To sacrifice is to make sacred. Not to make suffer, or to substitute one being’s suffering as atonement for another.

Think of it this way: then, as now, the major ways to build relationship were gifts and shared meals. So a sacrifice, in Jesus’ time, was to make sacred either a gift or a meal in order to honor God.

Photo by wayne marshall, via Flickr

There’s no doubt that Jesus’ death did involve both suffering and a substitution for the sins of others. But we focus so much on those elements, as if the only proper way to honor Christ’s sacrifice–during Lent and Holy Week especially–is to make ourselves feel as guilty and wretched about our failings as we possibly can. As one of my regular readers commented, Lenten reflections tend to focus on blood and gore and how awful we all are.

There’s a place for that, and yet it loses effectiveness with too much repetition. There’s something really profound to me about teasing out the strands and getting to the essence of the feast days we’re preparing to mark. At its core, the cross was Jesus’ gift to humanity.

There’s so much more to think about on this topic–the conjunction of sacred meal, Eucharist and Passover, for instance–but I don’t have it all worked out yet. I just wanted to share this idea as a way to, perhaps, approach the death of Jesus from a slightly different angle. Because sometimes that’s what we need in order to move forward in a faith journey: a new perspective on things we take for granted.