Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Slain Lamb

When I was a child, I always became excited when I knew Passover was coming. From the time I was a little girl I would help my mother with the preparations, the special ingredients that had to be bought, the special foods which had to be prepared. There was the ritual game of searching the house for any overlooked leaven (as if anything would ever be overlooked in a house my mother ran!) and then my father would officially declare the house to be free of leaven, and ready for the feast. And the meal? That was the climax. We were not a rich family, so roast meat was a luxury, as was wine, and these things were even less available to children. But most of all, it was the ritual that entranced me: the ancient prayers, and the moment when my youngest brother, usually with a little nudge to prompt him, would ask the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”, and my father would begin to tell the great story of deliverance. Of course we knew the story already, all Jewish children in faithful households were taught these things, but on Passover night I was always struck afresh by the holy mystery of God’s redeeming love.

There was only one part of Passover I hated – the killing of the lamb. We would take the lamb into our household, and you can imagine how we children loved it – young and playful, clean and faultless. But then my father would take it to the temple to be killed for the Passover feast. Of course, being a girl child, I couldn’t go, but I knew exactly what was involved, and I shuddered at the thought.

Years passed. I grew to adulthood and went through misery and torment until a young rabbi called Jesus set me free from my demons. I marveled at his authority, but it was because of his love and mercy that I followed him, for in him I saw the beauty of God, and the holiness that had so moved me as a young child, but now I knew that the mystery at the heart of holiness is unimaginable love.

And so we came to that year, the third year of his ministry, and as we approached Passover he set his face towards Jerusalem, even though he had been warned it would be his death. And it was, for one of his own betrayed him to the temple crowd who hated him, and they put him through a mockery of a trial, the form but not the substance of the law. Then they took him to Pilate, the Roman governor, and pressured him until he consented to the crucifixion of Jesus.

And so they took him forth, on the day of Passover, not to be killed inside the temple precincts, where only Jewish men could see the sacrifice, but out on a barren hilltop, for all the world to gaze at. The Passover lambs had an easy death, as deaths go, though still gruesome enough, a quick movement of the knife and it was done, for him there was no such ease. Hours he took to die, moment by throbbing moment, and this time I was there and watched through the whole ordeal. I could do nothing for his comfort, but how could I turn away when he had not turned his face away from my darkness, but called me forth into the light? And at the ninth hour, when the Passover lambs were sacrificed in the Temple, he died.

It was only later that I learned that his own cousin John had named him “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”; but even then, still unaware of the glorious victory which was to follow, and that the one who was slain is the one who is alive for evermore, I dimly sensed that the Passover itself had been fulfilled, and an even greater deliverance was taking place

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