At the Last Supper, when instituting the Eucharist as a sacriﬁcial meal, Jesus committed himself through a cultic, priestly act to his self-sacriﬁcing death. Here we come to the ﬁrst of the three supremely deﬁning moments in the narrative of Christ’s priesthood: the Last Supper, the cruciﬁxion, and the resurrection into glory. This thesis bristles with controversial points—not least over two central issues, the ﬁrst more general and the second more particular. First, what is ‘sacriﬁce’, and is it still viable language for Christians? Many people ﬁnd the idea of the sacriﬁce of a human being and, especially, of a totally innocent human being strange and even morally repulsive, especially when it is presented as ‘placating’ an angry, ‘bloodthirsty’ God. Nico Schreurs makes the claim: ‘sacriﬁces in general and blood sacriﬁces, in particular, disgust most of our contemporaries.’ Years earlier, J. S. Whale pointed out how for many people the very idea of such sacriﬁces is ‘revolting’ and both ‘morally and aesthetically disgusting’.11
11 J. S. Whale, Victor and Victim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 42.
In the Western world and beyond, the language of sacriﬁce seems irreconcilable with contemporary ‘ideals’ of self-realization and self-fulﬁlment, the ‘good life’ promoted by endless advertisements and TV soap operas. Add too that political rhetoric about dying for one’s country which has been employed for two thousand years or more—not least by unscrupulous modern leaders. For the sake of power, wealth, and prestige, they have debased the language of sacriﬁce and self-sacriﬁce and led millions to their death. Perhaps the sharpest criticisms levelled at sacriﬁcial interpretations of the Last Supper and Christ’s death have come from contemporary feminism. Some feminist theologians point out how some traditional presentations of Christ the innocent victim sacriﬁcing himself to atone for the sins of others have been misused to legitimate the sufferings of innumerable women. They have been encouraged to endure all kinds of violent injustice and victimization by imitating the self-sacriﬁcial love and redemptive death of Christ.12