An Easter Meditation from Nepal: There is a Sacrifice Better than the Blood of Bulls and Goats

One sunny day in early October last fall, we visited Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a vibrant potpourri of palaces and temples dating back nearly a thousand years.  Nepal is a melting pot of eastern religions, I think not only because it’s a very small country sandwiched between China and India, but also because it has a heritage of religious thinkers, including the original Buddha.  Durbar Square reflects this confluence of eastern spiritual ideas by providing places of worship for many gods and goddesses from various  religions, most prominently Hindu and Buddhist. There is even a Temple for Kumari, home of Nepal’s “living goddess” (a little girl chosen about once a decade who becomes a “goddess” until she hits puberty). There is also a temple to the Hindu god of destruction, and a statue of Hanuman, son of the Hindu wind god, Vayu.  The day we visited was a particularly holy day for the Buddhists, who were  slaughtering 108 bulls and goats as a sacrifice to appease the 108 manifestations of Buddha on earth.  To westerners, it seemed so macabre that many of our group turned their heads and walked away, looking for something less awful to take their attention. However, I was stood mesmerized, contemplating the somber import of this ritual and recalling a verse from the Bible: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). It occurred to me that every religion recognizes the need for us as sinful humans to somehow become reconciled to a holy god, but only in Christianity do we find a high priest who is willing and able to offer the ultimate sacrifice: Himself, unblemished and without sin, to die as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone in the entire world so that any person who is willing can be reconciled to the God who is “God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deuteronomy 10:17).  Are you willing to be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus? That’s what Easter is all about—the death and resurrection of Christ. He died for us and rose again to redeem us from our sins and make us into new creations, children of our heavenly Father who will love and serve the living God!  Christ appeared as a high priest… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV; the entire chapter is excellent reading to understand redemption through the blood of Christ).  Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

(Credits: I took all the photos last fall in Durbar Square, Nepal, except for the depiction of Jesus on the cross, painted by Rembrandt in 1631, and the picture with Psalm 63:2, contributed by my friend, Bob Hardee.)

The Janus of January

fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japanThe Roman mythology, Janus was the god of gates and time…
of beginnings, transitions, and endings.

janus-vatican-museum-by-loudon-dodd-wikiJanus was depicted as having two faces, one that looked back and one that looked forward, and it’s commonly thought that Janus was the god for whom the month of January was named by the Romans…a god who looked back over the past year and looked forward to the coming year. 2002_austria_100_euro_sculpture_wikiIt’s been a long time since I’ve really thought about the development of our present calendar, but I learned that the Roman calendar (which may be 2,700 years old) was updated in 46 BC. by Julius Caesar. However, that calendar—though an improvement over the 304-day Roman calendar—only had 355 days, and it wasn’t until 1582 that Pope Gregory X111 introduced the Gregorian calendar (our present calendar) which has 365.25 days (365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds to be precise). This calendar is the world’s most commonly used international civil calendar today. Sorry if this was too much detail, but the thing that really caught my attention was the description of Janus, because it made me think of the God of the Bible, who also declares himself to be the God of beginnings and endings. Revelation 22:13 proclaims: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”  fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japan-2      However, the God of the Bible says He is “God of gods and Lord of Lords
(Deuteronomy 10:17). fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japan-4He is the God of Janus and the God of all gods…not just the god of beginnings, and gates, and transitions and endings, but the Creator God, who made the sun and moon and stars and everything we see and every concept people try to worship. He is also the most worshiped God in the world today, did you know that? high-speed-train-on-way-to-fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japanThis God is my God, and I am thankful that through all the stages and transitions of life, I can rest in this ineffable God, who is not limited to sovereignty over certain aspects of life, but who is sovereign over all of life. kathi-at-fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japanEven more wonderful, the God of the Bible is a God of compassion and mercy. He was merciful in the past before we lived, He is merciful today while we live, and He will be merciful in the future. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). He’ll never change, and that gives me great hope and peace.  fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japan-mother-and-small-son“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japan-3Are you worried about what might lie ahead of you this year? Let’s not fret. Rather, let’s trust in the God of gates and passageways…the God who not only knows but is Himself the beginning and ending.

Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:5-8)

fushimi-inari-shrine-%e4%bc%8f%e8%a6%8b%e7%a8%b2%e8%8d%b7%e5%a4%a7%e7%a4%be-fushimi-inari-taisha-kyoto-japan-5(These photos of the beautiful orange gates are of Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) near Kyoto, Japan, and were taken while Alan and I were visiting with our kids and grand kids.)