By Paul Wheatley
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)
On the Feast of the Presentation, we remembered Mary and Joseph’s duty in bringing Jesus to the Temple 40 days after his birth, as recalled in the Gospel of Luke (2:22–35). Mary and Joseph fulfilled their duty of presenting their firstborn son in the Temple, and redeeming him with the appropriate sacrifice. Firstborn sons, according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:23, cf. Lev 12:6) belonged to the Lord, and were either given as servants to the Tabernacle or redeemed with a sacrifice.
Ironically for Mary and Joseph, their firstborn son would indeed be a servant of the Temple, or rather a servant of his heavenly Father whose glory resided in him as a walking Tabernacle. Yet more than this, he would present himself as a redeeming sacrifice that we might all be firstborn sons and daughters of the living God in him. Simeon, lifting high the infant Lord Jesus in his hands, confessed as we do in the Nunc Dimittis each night:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon’s prophetic act anticipated Christ’s being lifted high upon the cross, in his act of self-offering. Simeon’s priestly function in the Temple prefigured the Christian priest elevating the host after its consecration of the body of our Lord, when we participate like Simeon in holy expectation for the gathering of God’s people, the Body of Christ, into the heavenly banquet where Christ, again priest and victim, gives his body as our daily bread.
From this logic, Paul’s admonition in Romans 12 can be read as a charge to embody that same self-presentation that Jesus offered. As Christ offered himself, we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice in Christ. This is echoed in the Eucharistic prayers:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
Our eucharistic prayer draws us into the matrix of Jesus’ self-offering, Simeon’s joy to receive this firstborn child, and Paul’s logic that Christ’s self-offering created a new body, the Church, in which “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
Paul’s reasoning about communal relationships within this new body, for which genuine love, an aversion to evil, mutual affection, hope, patience, hospitality, perseverance in prayer, and hospitality are the norm (Rom. 12:9–13), stems from our participation, our self-presentation into the self-presentation of Christ on the cross. From this model, we see how in God’s kingdom we are called to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), live in peaceful, harmonic subversion of the power structures in which we find ourselves (Rom. 13:1–7), and at last fulfill the ultimate law of God to love one another (Rom. 13:8–10). We walk in love because Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1).