During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, we were faced with restrictions on activities unlike anything we had ever experienced before. Areas were faced with uncompromising lockdowns and curfews that forced many to remain in their homes for weeks except for dire emergencies.
Businesses were closed or reduced in customer access through shorter hours and occupant restrictions. Restaurants were reduced to solely outdoor access or take-out service. We sacrificed many freedoms that were taken for granted prior to the pandemic. Even churches struggled with the dilemma of obeying government mandates to not meet in large groups, or resist government interference with their right to free assembly.
But our inconvenience is just a small price to pay compared to those who have given their lives to save others. I can live without dining out or Disneyland if my isolation will save lives. Such a simple thing.
The Bible talks a lot about sacrifice, but often in a way that seems out of place in modern society. Grains and livestock were sacrificed on altars to garner God’s favor and continued blessings. Only the finest, most perfect items were chosen to demonstrate the sincerity of the one making the sacrifice. Such gifts of faith as this are seldom seen today.
In modern times, our charitable gifts are usually made from our earnings; dollars deposited or transferred into our checking accounts and transferred out through check or electronic transactions. There is no “selection of the best” involved. It can even be an automated transaction, done without much personal action required outside of budgeting and monitoring the bottom line to ensure we can pay our other bills.
The idea of Jesus Christ being offered as the scapegoat for our sins seems barbaric now. We like to think that humankind has advanced beyond such barbarism; that we would never consider human sacrifice seeking the favor of a deity.
But in a very real sense, it still goes on: Only the name of the cause has changed. People are sent to die in the name of a nation or a group. Innocent lives are taken as initiation rites by criminals, or to secure territorial claims by drug pushers and pimps. Police put their lives on the line daily, often without thanks and lately with selfish disdain.
Just as in ancient times, victims are often chosen by their attributes of strength or youth, but in our secured neighborhoods, most of us never experience it. As long as the world we live in seems secure, we don’t give it a second thought. The reality is, we have allowed the sacrifices that pay for our comfort to be done by others. We take it for granted, or for all the benefit we can squeeze out of it, but like the song says, “it’s no sacrifice, just a simple word.” Calloused to the harsh reality that buys our security, there is no sacrifice at all.
And as for Christ’s sacrifice? It still happens today. Every time the Church is maligned for representing moral issues, the world casts a stone at Christ. Every time an innocent life is taken for the sake of comfort, another nail meets the cross. Every time someone is rejected because they view love differently, a crown of thorns is applied. Good people have their reputations stripped from them with political whips. The perfect love of Jesus is sacrificed with every racist act, lie, and indifferent cold shoulder.
Even though the biblical account seems far removed from our current reality, we need to recognize the sacrifice made remains as real as it ever was. We wish the need for it were not so, but it is the way of this world.
Let us strive to repay the sacrifice with our gratitude and respond by loving others. Easy to say, I know, and not always easy to do. We are the recipients of the gift. The sacrifices that have been made for our benefit need to be answered. Recognize the sacrifice and accept the gift with grace.
"After these days, says the Lord, I will place my laws in their hearts and write them on their minds. And I won’t remember their sins and their lawless behavior anymore." — Hebrews 1:16-17