So we're talking about animal sacrifice and how Israel came to be a people who practiced it, and we started by looking at Cain and Abel, at Abraham, at God's command for His people to bring Him livestock, and we decided that, at the very least, it's complicated.
But we also said that Cain actually wasn't the first to sacrifice an animal, so that begs the question, then: who was?
And the answer is...God was.
If we go back in the Scriptures before Cain and Abel, there's only one scene: Adam and Eve. And as we know, they sinned and ate the fruit that God told them not to eat, then they discovered they were naked, hid in the bushes, wove together some coverings for themselves out of some leaves, then walked sheepishly (pun intended?) back out into the Garden when God came calling their names.
For many of us, this is the last image we have in our heads about Adam and Eve - walking with little leaves in front of their private bits, heads hung, cast out of the Garden to toil in the land and have pains in childbirth.
But there's another little verse tucked in there that changes everything, and it is the verse that tells us that when God saw them in their shame, He was moved by His great love for them and fashioned them coverings out of skin.
Since we already have reference to the flesh of men, it is not human skin that God covered them in, so it must have been animal skin.
Thus, God sacrificed the first animal in order to harvest a skin to cover the shame of man.
Animal sacrifice was initiated.
If, then, God initiated animal sacrifice when He created the first clothing for humankind, then the sacrifice of animals is something that we do primarily in remembrance of His gift. That is, we are meant to think about our sin and shame every time we do it. We are meant to recall His mercy and grace. We are meant to think about what it means that the God who had no choice but to cast us out of His Garden first covered our nakedness and shame.
Because of His love.
All of a sudden, then, everything we know - or think we know - about animal sacrifice starts to change. We start to understand it differently, not as a very human thing to do, but as a very holy thing to do. As an offering, yes, but as a remembrance. As a sacrifice, but out of gratitude. We cannot help but to be filled with thankfulness every time we lead our little lamb to slaughter; it is such a small price to pay for such a great, great love.
And...it really puts the Cross into new perspective, too.
Which isn't to say there aren't still some lingering questions. (Did I mention it's complicated? Kind of...)