What is Sacrifice?
Contemplating Easter in 2009
By Kristina Kaine
Published in the Anthrosophical Society In Australia Victorian Branch Inc. Newletter Vol 25 No 1 Feb/March 2009
What are we to make of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus as we stand in the twenty-first century? Sacrifice is not a popular concept today. It is either rejected completely as we look after ‘number one’, or it is taken up wholeheartedly in the sacrifice of self for others. Both are examples of the egotism which drives the modern human being.
As we contemplate the Easter Festival the image of sacrifice can be overwhelming. A physical body hanging from a cross, that has had nails hammered through its hands and feet, is a horrendous thing to contemplate. Our instinct is to only look at it from a distance. St John, in his gospel, tells us that this was the popular choice. Only one of Christ Jesus’ disciples, accompanied by the three holy women, could stand beneath the cross to which he was nailed, and look closely at what had occurred.
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Jn 19:25-16 RSV
In his lectures, Rudolf Steiner repeatedly advised us to make the event of Golgotha a living reality in our soul. The interpretation of this event over the last two thousand years has hardly given us any tools. In fact, many of the ideas that are etched within our being from childhood assist the Mystery of Golgotha to remain a mystery. Now it is for us to crawl out from under the many ideas which bury the deed rather than reveal its purpose.
A good place to start is to explore our understanding of what a sacrifice actually is. Our modern understand of the nature of sacrifice is that we deprive ourselves of something so that someone else benefits. We might, rightly, look to the motives behind such actions.
Is this really what sacrifice means? If we look to the Latin roots of the word: sacer “sacred,” + root of facere “to do, perform,” then sacrifice is a sacred action. Through our actions we can make something holy. Therefore a sacred action usually points to a consecration or a transubstantiation; changing something physical into something spiritual; something lower into something higher. This is quite different from the notion of depriving ourselves so that others may benefit; this idea of sacrifice suggests that everyone benefits. Furthermore, doesn’t this idea of sacrifice lie behind our motives to develop spiritually? True spiritual development means that the effort of each person benefits the whole community.
In the Bhagavad Gita there is a wonderful story which speaks of this idea of sacrifice. In his lectures, published as The Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul , Rudolf Steiner spoke about this. It is a story about what happens when we leave the heavens and enter into earthly life. From the heavens we look down on our planned biography and see the many conflicts we will encounter with those who incarnate with us through our karmic relationships. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna advised Arjuna in this way: “if you can rise above all this [conflict] and not be affected by your own deeds, like a flame which burns quietly in a place protected from the wind, undisturbed by anything external: if your soul, as little disturbed by its own deeds, lives quietly beside them, then does it become wise; then does it free itself from its deeds, and does not inquire what success attends them.”
Steiner goes on to explain that whenever we perform a deed, “there is something which at the same time is a looker-on at these deeds, which has no part in them, which says: I do this work, but I might just as well say: I let it happen.”
Being able to live quietly beside all that happens in our lives is the sacrifice. We sacrifice our self-absorption in our own problems and live quietly beside the problem while it reveals its purpose to our quiet observation.
This is the experience of connecting up with our I AM. Even though the full expression of our I AM is a work in progress, we can still experience something of this eternal human being within us now – if we work towards it, if we sacrifice. Krishna is our I AM and Arjuna is its mirrored reflection – that part of us that incarnates to work towards an ever-higher consciousness.
This would suggest that sacrifice is the purification of our lower self. Therefore, we have the opportunity in all moments of our daily life to sacrifice. Each time our natural instincts and our habitual behaviour influence the way we think, feel and act, we have the opportunity of sacrificing or making holy these soul faculties. For instance, if we meet someone we dislike, we have the opportunity to find something likeable about them. This means sacrificing our instinctive dislike – often originating from a past life memory. Or it could be something that we do, for example, drawing or painting. We may feel defeated at the thought of drawing a picture, but if we can sacrifice the feeling of defeat we free ourselves. We free ourselves from the instinct that we cannot draw or paint which then gives our I AM the opportunity to express itself. Our I AM, after all, is the source of human talent. If we can get our lower self out of the way then our I AM has the opportunity to reveal our potential to make an image.
We could look at some of the Easter images in this way, perhaps even draw them. Then we would experience our own resistance to being nailed to a cross in contrast to Jesus’ willingness to do so. In another instance, we may not like someone because we have a biased view of them. We disapprove of something we heard about this person. They then live in our soul in this biased way. If we met them and had a firsthand experience of them, we may have an entirely different view of them. Then we have the opportunity to sacrifice our bias and step over past life memories to meet the person anew in this life. Perhaps this is the sacrifice we must make about Christ Jesus. He has received so much bad press that we struggle to make sense of the sacrificial deed of Golgotha. We can be deeply grateful for the work of Rudolf Steiner who resurrected the events so that we may bring them to life in our own souls.
In one such story, in the series published as Foundations of Esotericism, Steiner explains why Christ Jesus placed the sacrifice in the context of bread and wine, saying that they were his body and blood.
“What should develop in the future is a further ascent from plant to mineral nourishment. Bread and Wine must again be sacrificed, must be given up. Thus as Christ appeared in the Fourth Sub-Race he pointed to Bread and Wine: ‘This is my Body; this is my Blood.’ Here He wished to create a transition from animal nourishment to plant nourishment, the transition to something higher. … ” The significance of the Last Supper is the transition from nourishment taken from the dead animal to nourishment taken from the dead plant. When our Fifth Sub-Race will have reached its end, in the Sixth Sub-Race, the Last Supper will be understood. Even before this it will be possible for the third form of nourishment to begin to make its appearance, the purely mineral. Man himself will then be able to create his nourishment. Now he takes what the Gods have created for him. Later he will advance and will himself prepare in the chemical laboratory the substances he will require.
If such esoteric facts live in our soul we will be able to sacrifice the natural, unconsciousness, state of our soul which can betray us. Then we become much more conscious of ourselves and of others. What follows next is that we sacrifice our lack of understanding and empathy for others, enabling us to share their experiences as if we were them. Entering into each other in this way is the I AM experience. It is our I AM that urges us to make the event of Golgotha a living experience because it was through the deed of Golgotha that we were given the possibility to have a personal connection with our I AM.
Easter 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of the approach of the etheric Christ as described by Steiner in his lectures in 1909. Robert Powell, during his visit to Australia in January 2009, suggested that this Easter will bring a very powerful in-streaming (parousia) of the Christ spirit.
This Easter, then, will be an excellent opportunity for us to create new images of the sacrifice of Christ. We should not worry about what images to make; if our efforts are motivated by a sincere striving to make Golgotha real, Christ will reveal himself to us through these images. We can stand with him and offer up our own sacrifices and in this way we become his co-worker. Then his presence in this world is revealed through us by our ability to stand in our own I AM.