Women's Club was fairly quiet and empty today. Many of our regular attendees are our Muslim friends, who were celebrating today one of their biggest holidays of the year, Eid al-Adha: The Festival of Sacrifice.
This festival is actually based on the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. The story is a little different in Muslim culture than it is in Christianity: for one thing, Abraham's only son is Ishmael... Isaac was born after this testing time as a reward for Abraham's willingness to obey God. Also in this version of the story, Ishmael gave full consent to being made a sacrifice. But the basic story is the same: God tells Abraham to sacrifice on an altar his most precious possession, his only son, and Abraham obeys God, and at the last minute God tells Abraham he passed the test and he provided a ram to sacrifice instead.
The Muslim community remembers this story and celebrates it by sacrificing a spotless goat, sheep, cow, or camel. They split the meat up into three parts - one to have with their family, one to share with friends and neighbors, and one to give to the poor.
I can't help but wonder: Why, out of all the things they could recognize, do they celebrate this historical event? Why is it significant to them? What hope do they have in it?
For me, growing up in a Christian home, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son was always a picture - a symbol - of greater things to come. In fact, every Old Testament story that involves sacrifice is a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice made by the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world. As a follower of Jesus (Isa), I praise God and have great joy and hope in that gift of a ram in the bushes... because that ram reminds me of Jesus, who came to be sacrificed so I would not have to be. He took my place and chose to give me life instead.
The wages - the rightful earnings - of sin is death. It is what I deserve and there is nothing in myself that could make that right. So God told his people to sacrifice animals as sin and guilt offerings for many years to remind them of this. Death is the consequence of sin, but from the time Adam and Eve received animal skin tunics from God himself, he has reminded his people that the consequence could be transferred to an innocent life that is sacrificed to cover our sin. But there really isn't power in a sheep or goat's blood, so the sacrifice had to be made over and over... Until the perfect Lamb of God came, and through his blood we all can receive the gift of complete forgiveness, freedom from sin and death, full assurance of eternal life with God in heaven, abundance of hope, joy, peace, and love... such amazing love from the Father who longs to know us deeply and personally. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
That is something to truly celebrate! How can the people of Islam really celebrate a story like this if they haven't accepted the ending, the punchline, the reality of this shadowy symbolic parable? What is there to celebrate if there isn't the gift of the assurance of eternal life through grace and faith in Jesus?
Oh God, as our Muslim friends take part in this sacrificial celebration, please open their eyes and hearts to the beautiful truth of this story and its incredible happy ending!