The priest shall bring [the bird to be sacrificed] to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall tear it open by the wings, not severing it completely… Leviticus 1:15, 17a
Reading the Bible through the eyes of an ardent atheist is exhausting intellectual combat. It makes you marvel again at the sheer existence of the supernatural and grateful that God exists and acts at all.
Reading the Bible through the eyes of a Muslim is easier in a way. At least we agree that God exists and share a respect for many of the same prophets. But you run into the Trinity and the nature of Jesus and leave marveling all over again at something as divine as the incarnation or that God exists inextricably one and yet three.
But it’s been reading the Bible through the eyes of a Hindu that has given me fresh eyes to Good Friday.
Hindus accept the existence of the supernatural even more readily that many Christians. Allowing for Jesus’ divinity isn’t a large stretch either.
It’s the idea of sacrifice that gets to the Hindu. Nonviolence towards all life is embedded so deeply in their make-up that even eating a piece of fully cooked, looks-nothing-like-a-live-animal meat makes many of my friends literally gag.
Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the Tent of Meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary. Leviticus 4:5-6
First conversations with a Muslim about Jesus’ sacrifice can use fully the imagery of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb. Every year, they celebrate Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in the place of his son and, in South Asia at least, rural or traditional Muslims will bring that year’s sacrifice into their homes, care for it, and then cut it up in their living area. Sacrifice is a bloody, accepted reality for Muslims.
Oddly, though, I’ve found that my first conversations with Hindu friends about Jesus’ sacrifice sound a lot more like the conversations I have with Christian friends. “Sacrifice” can mean a lot of things and it’s easier – and more in our realm of experience – to talk about giving something up for someone else. Sacrificing your time to help someone else, sacrificing your money for a good cause. But it’s not the same, gut-wrenching meaning to sacrifice as ripping a bird in half with your bear hands.
He is to lay his hand on the head of [the sacrificial animal] and slaughter it at the entrance… Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood against the altar on all sides. Leviticus 3:2-4
On Good Friday morning, I slip into church with some friends. The worship music has begun – we’re a little late – and before long we’re seated and I close my eyes. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a traditional church, with worship songs in English, and I try to let them absorb me like they haven’t in a long while.
I don’t even remember the song, but suddenly we’ve uttered the words “lamb of God” and I’m jolted out of the Christian environment. I’m gagging on the words, like my Hindu friends do when they think of eating meat. My stomach turns and tears well up.
The rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering t the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall remove all the fat from it and burn it on the altar… Leviticus 4:18-19
It’s a disgusting and horrible story. Flesh ripped from bone by whip, skin bruised – purple and swollen – by undeserved beatings and undeserved accusations leveled by arrogant, blind men. And finally, a human sacrifice pinned up naked and trembling for the passing world to mock.
I have read this story hundreds of times before and I have never gagged. My stomach has never revolted at the brutality, the violence of it all. I have never shaken with the realization that it was in my place His body shivered under death’s shadow. I have always known it was “okay” because “Sunday’s coming” and He would be back and, really, death couldn’t do anything permanent.
But this year, I’ve seen that it wasn’t “okay”. It was wicked, vicious, and vile. Sunday’s coming doesn’t erase torture and bones that pop out of joint because a person is struggling so hard to breathe.
But this year, I’ve seen the depth of love that endures that torture. I’ve choked on tears of gratitude in a way that a hundred readings as a Christian never engendered. I’ve mourned my own sin’s complicity in the matter – murder at my own hands.
It wasn’t until I read the story of Good Friday with a tiny bit of perspective from a Hindu that I truly understood.