April 19, Jerusalem III: The Temple and Sacrifice

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A few years ago a romantic young Jerusalem rabbi explained on television how he would restore the sacrificial ritual of the Temple, once his organisation had taken charge of the site, an event he was confident would occur soon. He was convinced that this was what God wanted.

Scripture seems far less certain about Temple sacrifice; there are plenty of passages like this one:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,

opened my ear;

you asked no holocaust or sacrifice for sin,

then I said, ‘Here I am! I am coming!’ (Psalm 40:6–7)

 

Yet the sacrificial dissection, burning and eating of animals by priest and people went on, day after day, year after year. Why? Mary Douglas suggested that sacrifice was a concrete form of telling the story of the Lord’s presence at the heart of the Temple and of his people. The body of the sacrificial animal ‘corresponding to the tabernacle in the holy nation’,[1] and its life and that of the people were  symbolically returned to God through the blood and vital parts offered at the altar, while the meat shared by priests and offerers expressed communion with God and each other.

The young rabbi’s plan is on hold for the foreseeable future. God wants neither elaborate ritual nor the innermost parts of animals; he wants faith (Hebrews 11); he wants the innermost parts of his servants to ascend to him in a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

We do not need to be in Jerusalem to make a morning offering!

MMB.

[1]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 134.

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