C.S. Lewis once made this striking observation, “Every temple in the world, the elegant Parthenon at Athens and the holy temple at Jerusalem, was a sacred slaughterhouse. […] But […] if temples smelled of blood, they also smelled of roast meat; they struck a festive & homely note, as well as a sacred.”1Reflections on the Psalms, Chapter 5 Lewis is quite right here. Ancient religions––even Judaism––were marked by the shedding of blood as a vital worship ritual.
Some cultures and empires were less cruel than others in the sort of blood offered to the gods; the human sacrifices of the Aztecs make the day of Yom Kippur look quaint by comparison. But one thing shouldn’t escape our notice: the sacrificial system was a horror. Even amongst God’s people––restrained by His holy law––the blood-letting of countless animals, causing the temple stairs to turn into a river of blood would likely make even the most stout-hearted rancher here get a little queasy.
But accompanying all the sacrificial blood was the festive aroma of meat over fire. Calvary was a horror. Our nativity scenes don’t always capture the nuance that the baby in the feeding-troff was a lamb to be slaughtered. The Lamb Who was offered up to become a pleasing aroma in the Lord’s nostrils. Justice would be satisfied. Joyful festivities might commence.
This table reminds us of both the horror of God the Son, bleeding out for the remission of sins, and the savory aroma of a victory feast. God, through the Son’s blood, has made His enemies His friends, and now invites us to share in this bountiful meal, celebrating His triumph. Both the horror and joy are on this table. The somber note of the grievousness of our sins and the great price paid to forgive them, turns into the trumpet blast of the celebration begun.
So come and welcome to Jesus…
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