Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Full, Perfect, and Sufficient Sacrifice

It is very fitting that we are reading Leviticus 16 concerning the Day of Atonement as we prepare to reach the climax of Matthew's gospel and the crucifixion of Jesus. The sacrificial system described in Leviticus finds its fulfillment in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The word "atonement" refers to the reconciliation of God with humanity and all of creation. In his second to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul declares "in Christ God was reconciling himself to the world" (5:19). It may be helpful to think of atonement as "at-one-ment."

On the Day of Atonement the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place, the dwelling place of God, and offer a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. This atoning sacrifice was offered every year in addition to the various other sacrifices previously described in the book of Leviticus. Through his atoning work on the cross, Christ fulfills both the role of high priest and the sacrificial victim. Consequently, immediately following his death, the veil in the temple that represented the separation between God and humanity was torn in two. Jesus, our great High Priest, had entered into the Most Holy Place and offered the perfect sacrifice - himself. The hymn Alleluia, Sing to Jesus powerful captures this dual function of Christ:

Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

The forgiveness and reconciliation that we have received through Christ is the fulfillment of what was only foreshadowed by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were necessarily offered repeatedly because of their insufficiency. But we are the recipients of grace up on grace, because we abide in the presence of the One, who by his death and resurrection, has made all things news. I could fill this entire blog with reflections and comments about the atonement, but I will leave you to reflect on the following paragraph from the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer:

All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for
that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus
Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who
made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full,
perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for
the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy
Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that
his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.


  1. Ref: reading up to Leviticus 19--perhaps the answer is yet to come -- we are released from all these sacrificial requirements with our faith in Jesus. What about modern day Jewish people?

  2. This passage in Matthew (27: 32-66) weighs so much. Why do this for me? I don't deserve anything, especially like this.