No longer are animal sacrifices made. Can you imagine if they were? Perhaps we might get a greater understanding of the atonement if we could see and smell sacrifice happening. Archbishop Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) mentioned this briefly in his paper, ‘Sacrifice and Spirit’ read to the Anselm Society in the early 1970s. Much imagery surrounds the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord — Jesus is the Passover lamb; Jesus is the sin offering; Jesus is the scapegoat; Jesus initiates the covenant; Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and grants us his peace.
Old Bibles often have these images before us, beautifully and reverently illustrated. The images of sacrifice stay with us, and there are reasons why — to give identity, to give meaning, and to show the unchanging nature of Eastertide. And to make us never forget.
Yearly, at the Easter vigil, as the sun is making its evening descent, we Christians give worship and praise to God. It begins solemn, dark, and somber. It is adoration, thanksgiving, and petition framed within these atonement images. How is it all things will be summed up in Christ?
Worship begins in darkness, the congregation holds unlighted candles. A new fire is kindled.
Before the Cross, no sacrifice like this had ever been made. The sin of the world is being taken away. All these images go together and what makes them united? Archbishop Ramsey wrote, “They go together because of the phenomenon of agape, love in the Christian sense. The love whereby Jesus makes his pure and perfect offering is the same love whereby Jesus identifies himself completely in the bearing of the load of human calamity.”
And then the world is turned upside down.
The images change and as light pours forth, the battle is won and the same person who has been lamb, sin offering, scapegoat, and covenant, is now all that plus Prophet, Priest, and King. Life, death, resurrection, ascension — all Victory. The new fire was kindled and shared. The candles are lit. And the ‘Great Noise’ of bells begins.
And that is why when we participate in the Easter liturgy and hear the familiar accounts of Creation, the Flood, the sacrifice of Isaac, Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, God’s presence in a renewed Israel, Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation offered freely to all, the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, the valley of dry bones, and gathering of God’s people, we say with David: God is in the midst of her; she shall not be overthrown; God shall help her at the break of day (Ps 46:6).
All is summed up in Christ, in his loving act of obedience, bearing our sin. His self-giving love, His sovereignty, and our shared Victory.