The idea that it would be necessary to sacrifice a lamb at Passover to save the Hebrew first-born is offensive to us — that is, we modern people who know all unnecessary killing is offensive. Why a lamb — wasn't there some kind of red dye that would have done just as well? However, as long as we are getting upset about the sacrifice of lambs, let us not forget the first-born of the Egyptians. The liberation of Israel, so celebrated today as a generalized symbol of salvation, was not good news for the Egyptians and, as events developed, it was even worse news for the Canaanites.
We Christians like to use this time, this Easter time, to differentiate ourselves from the Jews –or, perhaps better put, from all those who would sacrifice animals and even other people as part of God's economy of salvation. Footwashing is much more palatable for us. Christianity is surely about serving others to make the world better. We do not think that the idea of sacrifice, particularly non-voluntary sacrifice, might be at the heart of our worship of God and worthy of discussion.
Our abhorrence of the practice of sacrifice, moreover, comports well with the humanistic presumptions so characteristic of modernity and in particular the modern university. We no longer need sacrificial religions; rather we need people who may have to sacrifice their ambition and/or pleasures to become servants to others so we can free ourselves from our self-imposed limits. We think the whole point of our lives is to create a world that makes sacrifice irrational. Our goal is to sacrifice sacrifice by creating a world of freedom where all limits are freely chosen.
Our god, accordingly, has become a cosmic but highly personal bureaucrat that lovingly lures each of us to discover ourselves through our individual destinies. That one of God's creatures should be sacrificed so that it might be led to its true end can only strike us as cruelty.
The university has become the primary agent for the creation of a world free of sacrifice. Here, at universities like Duke, we produce and underwrite stories that assure us that we have now moved — or at least we are trying to move — beyond stories centered on sacrifice. Which is why, of course, that the contemporary university to its credit is a place of multicultural turmoil. As a university we are committed to denying no one a voice in the story of progress toward a world in which no one must suffer for anyone else. We invite counter-voices in the attempt to create a common story that relegates sacrifice to the past. The only problem is those counter-voices seem inextricably to involve suffering that only makes sense as a story of sacrifice. Such sacrifices are relegated to the past in an attempt to create a common story no long dependent on sacrifice.
Yet that project to create such a common story — the project of modernity, the university that serves it, our lives that are embedded in it — is a lie. We are not and cannot be beyond sacrifice. The stories we create to convince us we can live without sacrifice create lying stories, false memories, that require more sacrifices that are all the more destructive exactly because they cannot be acknowledged as sacrifice. That is why the Jews remain such an embarrassment for modern people — they know they must continue to be a Passover people, a people who remember they live by sacrifice, particularly after the destruction of the Temple.
The lie we tell is particularly apparent in our inability to deal with the horror of the past. "History," Hegel observed, "is a slaughter-bench." The university, as humane and Utopian a space as exists, is built on the shoulders of murders. Christians not only perpetrated our share of these crimes but even more important we provided the justification, or at least explanations that insure we will perpetuate similar crimes in the future in the name of our humanity. Duke Chapel is a monument built by Christian accommodation to that story of human progress. What is a little slavery, genocide, and rapacious economic behavior if we can all come to a place like this to worship?
I confess I am hesitant to mention matters like slavery and genocide to people like you and me — enlightened people who dote on the guilt we think is produced by our honesty. Of course the histories we inherit are filled with terror, we feel terrible about it, but our very recognition of the slavery and genocides of the past is surely a sign of our righteousness, that we are okay. No need to sacrifice to a righteous God in the hope of saving ourselves from God's righteous wrath. Now that we acknowledge the slaughter-bench on which we stand, we just need to remember to try to be better. After all what else can you do when what has been done is so wrong that nothing you can do can make it right? At least through the disciplines of the university we do not suppress the memory of those who have suffered — women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Jews, the poor.
Of course this in its turn creates the new righteousness of victimization which unfortunately turns out to be the worst form of victimization. To be victimized is to be forever caught in a history created by the victimizer. Moreover the guilt of humane victimizers like us, winners who constitute the knowledge industries called universities, become tired and bored with narcissistic delights of our guilt.
Such guilt too readily can offer new reasons to victimize, to sacrifice the victim for being the victim. And so it goes. We pile murder on murder in our desperate attempt to create a history, a space, free of murder. If you do not believe that, think about the Iraquis burned alive in the sands of Desert Storm in the name of a progressive civilization that knows it is progressive because it is not led by a "brutal ruler."
The good news is that God has brought an end to such murderous sacrifice by the sacrifice of our Passover lamb. "On the same night He was betrayed He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me, for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes'." Here sacrifice has come to its proper end, its proper purpose, for in this sacrifice God refuses to let the history of murder determine God's life and our history. All murderous sacrifice is ended by this one mighty sacrifice of God through which we — that is, the church — have been made part of God's sacrifice, God's life, for the world.
By the creation of a people capable of remembering "on the night he was betrayed" — betrayed by us — we became a people of the new age with a history that is not based on lying. By being made part of God's sacrificial life we proclaim that God has made us an Israel-like people capable of remembering that our history is one made possible by miracle. By such a miraculous sacrifice, we have been saved from the self-justifying and congratulatory lies of the world that lead only to further murder.
The great good news is that by making us participants in God's sacrifice of Jesus, we become the salvation for the world. We do not sacrifice to God in eucharist, but in eucharist we are made God's sacrifice. Church names those people who are no longer tempted to sacrifice themselves and others to idols. In this sacrifice all other sacrifices come to an end because here we see the end of true sacrifice.
Only by a memory constituted by God's continuing sacrifice, moreover, can we get footwashing right. Jesus tells Peter that he cannot know what such washing entails, for such washing surely anticipates a baptism into the sacrifice of the cross. Peter cannot know for what he asks when he requests for not only his feet but for his hands and head to be submerged into the blood of the cross. In this washing Christ makes us not generalized servants to help those in need, but rather as He tells Peter, through such washing we share His life, His sacrifice. Servanthood abstracted from Christ's sacrifice cannot help but foster humanistic and sentimental illusions that offer us no salvation from the slaughter-bench of history. Our God, the God of Passover and crucifixion, is a bloody and bloodied God. Our salvation, our service to one another, is equally bloody. We are a church of martyrs.
Christians are not asked to wash one another's feet because we think service will make the world less murderous; rather we become servants to one another as Christ served us — through sacrifice. Once we see it is the crucified Christ who kneels before us ready to wash us in a basin of blood we cannot help but be sympathetic with Peter's, "You will never wash my feet." Yet through our baptisms we have been so washed, made part of God's counter-history, counter-kingdom, counter-community that would rather die before we kill. Moreover we believe as we are made a people of such memory we offer the world a history not destined to repeat our murderous past.
Our Savior's blood is now smeared on the lintels of our bodies, the church's body, so that God will remember not to destroy the world. It is a frightening and terrible thing God has done to us by making us part of Christ's sacrifice. Yet in that doing we have been freed from the history of sacrificial vengeance and murder. By being so constituted we believe we have learned to wash one another with the truth.
Such a truth constitutes our servant ministry here at this university. We cannot fail to challenge the false histories enshrined here that deny the necessity of God's sacrifice.
Do not expect to be celebrated for such a servant witness. Expect to be reviled. Indeed we better learn to eat with our loins girded and the sandals on our feet. Our sacrifice, after all, is a moveable feast.
That the world may be offended by sacrifice is why we will time and time again need to rush back here — to this different time than university time — to have our bodies washed in the sacrificial memory of Passover and our Passover lamb called Jesus. Is it any wonder that we hunger and thirst for this feast of the new age through which we are made God's proclamation of Christ's death? So come, rush to the table, knowing that here we are lifted up so that we and the world are saved from the slaughter.

Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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