The last weekend of the college semester a half dozen of my students spent a Saturday afternoon resting in our home. A couple of them actually curled up in bunkbeds and fell into deep sleeps precipitated by too many all-nighters preparing for final exams. They were exhausted. Those not napping sprawled over couches hypnotized by the dancing flames of my husband’s living room fire. We ate snacks and drank coffee and took turns telling stories.
Earlier they’d asked for a house tour. The book-lovers among them were lingering over titles in my upstairs library when my young friend Yohanna exclaimed out loud. She’d noticed a series of books on my shelves authored by her very own grandfather.
I’ve long considered Don Richardson’s Peace Child to be a modern day covenant story. Yohanna’s grandparents lived for many years in Indonesia and New Guinea. It’s where her dad met and married her mother. The most memorable of Grandpa Don’s recorded stories recounts a season spent living among the Sawi people. At the time the Sawis were headhunters. Cannibals. Although it’s been years since I read it, I can still feel the intensity of the appalling tale. The Sawis once prided themselves in a practice of “fattening” their victims through friendship. Before they ate them. Don’s horrifying narrative guarantees you feel the depth of the treachery in the pit of your stomach.
But then. Don and his wife Carol got to know their neighbors and learned their stories. Over the course of time the Richardsons were introduced to a sacred practice of the Sawi people. It was, in fact, a covenant exchange. Occasionally two enemy clans would come to an agreement. They would make peace through the exchange of children. Each clan would select one child, preferably the baby of an esteemed chief or leader. From this day forward their precious offspring would live as the protected child of another family, thus guaranteeing permanent peace between previously warring communities.
The practice is a bit disturbing.
But Grandpa Don’s thoughtful application of the practice would change the future of these people forever. Slowly, deliberately, Don and Carol entered into the Sawi story. And eventually, as trusted friends, they introduced the Sawis to the very last Peace Child they would ever need. Violence was transformed into genuine love as communities received the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the blood of Jesus.
Around the time I first read Peace Child, I fell in love with another book, this one fiction. The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers, is also a covenant story. This is the story of an Appalachian child who carries her own burden of unmentionable sin. A little girl sets out in desperation to find the one person who can possibly help her, an outcast from her village called the sin-eater. Chosen by lot, this unfortunate soul has lived his life in the shadows, the recipient of every sin of the village people. As the story unfolds both the girl and the sin-eating man meet a traveling preacher who puts a redemptive spin on their superstition, and the two are rescued by the True Sin Eater.
Most of us are not headhunters (or foreigners in danger of being someone’s lunch) but all of us are in desperate need of peace. Peace with God and peace within our own stories. We live in a world rampant with evil waiting to consume us. I do not think this is exaggeration. We are, like the girl in the fictional story, bearing overwhelming burdens we were never meant to carry.
The Bible’s covenant story tells of one great exchange that flips the script of every other narrative. There was One who would give his own flesh and blood to save us. One who would be devoured on our behalf. One who eats our sin.
When Jesus enters our story we trade fear, shame, hatred, and every regret for a new life of freedom and purest joy. We are unshackled. Unburdened. We are set free to live in peace with God and each other. Our story is rewritten through miracle love.
Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat (Leviticus 16:9-10).
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:13-15).
The titles mentioned in this post are included in my list of favorites found in the “Book Recommendations” tab of my website.