Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fr. Dwight on Sacrifice

"The Centrality of Sacrifice"

In jumping the divide from Evangelical Protestantism to historic, Apostolic Christianity, the idea of Eucharistic sacrifice presented me with a major hurdle, if not THE major hurdle. I was raised to believe that the Epistle to the Hebrews, which presents Christ's sacrifice as fulfilling, and therefore making obsolete, the Jewish sacrificial system, applies as much to the Christian Divine Liturgy, or Mass, as it does to the sacrifices of the Jewish temple. Not so, not so.

Hebrews, in the last chapter, speaks of the Eucharist: "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" and then, later, another more oblique reference is found in Hebrews 13:16: "Do not neglect to do good and to COMMUNICATE for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Then, of course, St. Paul, by juxtaposing the Eucharist with pagan sacrifices in I Corinthians, implies that the Eucharist is inded a sacrifice.

And, then, of course, there is the Didache, written in the late First Century, which explicitly calls the Eucharist a sacrifice and states that it is the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations [gentiles], and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering,....says the Lord."

In his piece, Fr. Dwight contrasts Eucharist-as-sacrifice with Eucharist-as-fellowship meal. The point is that the Eucharist is a "fellowship meal" precisely because it is participation in the sacrifice of Christ. He also speaks of the Eucharist as the first and foremost means by which we fulfill Romans 12:1, offering our bodies, as a "living sacrifice", as "spiritual worship" through, with, and in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, into whose death we have been baptized.

Finally, he speaks of the kenosis, the "self-emptying" of God as the basis for all sacrifice. This kenosis does not begin with the Incarnation, and it is not restricted to the Son. From all eternity, the generation of the Son and the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit by the Father are archetypal acts of kenosis. In emptying himself, therefore, the Lord Jesus does, as he says in John's Gospel, simply what he sees the Father doing.

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