Several days after the grand jury report about clergy sex abuse and the actions of those who tried to cover it all up, it is hard to know what to write in a weekly blog. News commentators are calling this the biggest crisis in Christendom since the Reformation. Victims are speaking publicly and understandably about how the actions of church leaders have brought them to a crisis of faith. Church leaders of various Christian denominations are split between condemnation and calls for accountability, reconciliation, and healing. For me, there simply are no words. It's at times like these that I can well appreciate God's inclination to send a Great Flood...to rebuild the whole depraved human structure from scratch! And yet, since even the "best" human institutions on earth are fallen and err, I also sense the need to simply get down on my knees and offer the prayer, "Lord, have mercy." Lord, have mercy on us all.
We need sacrifice. We need the sacrifice of our church as an institution to put in place structures that hold its leaders accountable (cf. James 3:1). We need the sacrifice of our leaders to always do their utmost to promote the welfare of the most helpless and vulnerable among us. We need the sacrifice of one another for the difficult task of reporting abuse when we see or experience it and listening to those who come forward with a story to tell. Most importantly, though, we need the sacrifice of a Savior. We need to hear the One whose Word never fails. We need the sacrifice of One who doesn't treat us as our sins deserve, but who, "while we were still sinners...died for us" (Rom 5:8).
As we move through the final portion of Jesus' Bread of Life sermon this week, Jesus shifts the imagery from bread (manna) in the wilderness to sacrifice (flesh and blood). His Word evokes Passover and the spotless Lamb of God who would "take away the sin of the world" (1:29). Jesus no longer wanted His listeners to only remember the manna in the wilderness and how God preserved Israel during her wilderness wanderings there. Now Jesus' Word would turn His listeners' attention forward. Now it would highlight another event: his body, broken and sacrificed, on Calvary’s cross. Jesus wanted them (and us) to know that such a sacrifice was for them. He would make it. They would be enlivened by it.
Words fail us when we see the ugliness of the human condition, as it truly is. There is no excusing or somehow rising above the sin of the world in which we all share. But God's Word ultimately turns our attention away from exclusive focus on human failure to the only perfect sacrifice that will ever be made: the sacrifice of the Son of God, who died for us. Even should our own words fail, God's does not. Receiving again Jesus' body and blood in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper this Sunday, let us live as people enlivened by the sacrifice of Jesus and directed where His Word leads: "Given...shed, for you." Lord, have mercy! Amen.