The Fruit of Sacrifice
By Archbishop Julian Porteous
We are about to commemorate once again the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ over the three holiest days of the Christian year. The Church invites her children to participate in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening, then to stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday afternoon, and then through the Easter Vigil to announce with joy the resurrection of the Lord, to celebrate Easter day.
These are profoundly moving liturgies which draw us into the mystery of God’s extraordinary act of redeeming humanity. They invite us each year to recall the ultimate meaning and purpose of our own life. We are taken beyond the daily material concerns to look at the greater picture of human life in the light of God’s great act of redemption. In particular, they cause us to reflect upon the cost of human sin and the lengths to which God was prepared to go to redeem sinful humanity.
Christ’s coming and his public ministry were all oriented towards his death on a cross at Calvary. He knew this and spoke of it several times. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Lk 9:22). He knew that he would fulfil the prophesy of the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah spoke of (Is 52-53). He was to be a sacrificial lamb. St John announced him as the “lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) and St Peter declares that we have been saved by “the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely, Christ” (I Pet 1:19).
Each Christian understands that they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Over the Sacred Triduum each year we contemplate once again that Christ offered up himself as a sacrifice for us.
Thus, it is that Christianity understands the place of sacrifice in human life. In Christ it was a total sacrifice – his own life – that saved sinful humanity. For each of us, we know that we are also to embrace sacrifice as a source of producing good. Jesus, indeed, expects this of us. He said that his disciples must be prepared to take up their own cross and follow him (Mt 16:24).
In the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection we understand that sacrifice is a source of life. The psalmist speaks of “sowing in tears” and then “reaping in joy” (Ps 126:5). We experience this in life. We embrace various sacrifices, sometimes in tears, but then we experience a sometimes surprising fruitfulness that is produced through it. And we reap with joy. For the Christian, sacrifice is never wasted or pointless, especially when united with Christ it is fruitful, indeed redemptive.