Good Friday, 7 Apr 23
Mr and Mrs Beaver live in Narnia. They are telling some strangers, some human beings, who don’t know the place well, what it is like. And they naturally explain that the current wickedness besetting the land will come to an end, they believe, because of Aslan. One of the humans - a daughter of Eve so called - Lucy asks about this Aslan, “Is – is he a man?” “Aslan a man!” says Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King . . . and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Then he isn’t safe?” says Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver . . . “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Some books later Lucy, her brother Edmond and others arrive after a great journey in the Dawn Tredder, an impressive ship. They arrive finally in what’s known as Aslan’s country. The animal to greet them though is not Aslan the Lion, but rather a Lamb. Here in this place, His own country, Aslan is known differently.
I want to consider this image of the Lamb for our Lord Jesus Christ, whose death we gather to commemorate on this day, whose Cross we come to venerate for on it hung the Saviour of the world.
A lamb first features in the Scriptures in what’s called the Sacrifice of Isaac. It’s one of the long readings we have during the Vigil tomorrow evening at St Mary’s at 8pm. We listen to it by candlelight, lit supremely by the Paschal Candle, which will have been newly blessed. This symbolises that as Christians we always read the Old Testament through the light that comes with Jesus Christ. In Genesis 22, you may recall, Abraham is told to take His Son Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt-offering. It sounds repugnant to us but this was an age of child sacrifice. God is clear this is still a huge demand though, recognising that this is the son whom Abraham loves. But there’d be no point offering to God the son Abraham didn’t like: it’s meant to be costly.
So, Abraham takes his son to Mount Moriah, on which centuries later Solomon would build the Temple, which would become the supreme place of encounter and of mercy between God and His people, the house of prayer, the altar of sacrifice. Abraham builds the altar out of wood and gets everything ready but just as the sacrifice is about to be made, an angel of the Lord appears and tells him to stop: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” A ram is then discovered in a thicket nearby and that ram is offered in its stead.
It’s a beautiful reflection on what happens centuries later on the wood of Calvary. The link is made by the Church setting Isaiah 53 to be read on this day, as we heard: “Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening his mouth.” Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice, the Lamb of God, as St John the Baptist heralds at the start of His sacred ministry (St John 1:29). On the Cross we - you and me, my brothers and sisters - should be dying because of our sin. Instead God sends His Son to die on our behalf. The Just One, who knows no sin, takes our sin upon Himself. And, as the hymn puts it, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.” Only Jesus could do this, being born in our likeness, entirely human, but while also being entirely God, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. God provides. One fruit to come out of this Good Friday will be for us take seriously the sin we commit, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault. Taking sin seriously mustn’t give it too much power, for God alone is strong, but if we give sin space in our life by ignoring it it will only grow. Let’s root it out that we may testify to Christ’s sacrificial victory on the Cross.
Lambs had taken a significant role in the account of how God saves His people in the celebration of the first Passover, the institution ordinance for which we heard last night at the Maundy Thursday Mass at St Mary’s. This Feast was given as a celebration both of the freedom won for God’s people by Moses, freedom from Pharaoh’s yoke, and because of the preservation unto life which the people experienced when the rest of the first-born of Egypt had died. The Passover Lamb, offered to God, must then be a lamb without blemish, a male one year old. It was to be chosen on the tenth day of Nisan and if the Last Supper which the Lord celebrated on Maundy Thursday was a passover meal we know that the selection of the lambs happened on Palm Sunday, as Jesus entered Jerusalem. At the first Passover, some of the blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites but the rest of the lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herds. There was to be a sense through the ages of them going on a journey, eating the Passover Lamb with staff in hand and sandals on feet. It was to be eaten hastily.
Because of the link between Easter and Passover we often hear in the Easter liturgies the word Paschal, which is another word for Easter but comes from the word for Passover. And so, we will bless tomorrow evening the Paschal candle. We sing the hymn during Eastertide with the line “Paschal triumph, Paschal joy only sin can this destroy.” It refers to what our Lord’s Death and Resurrection achieved but through the lens of what happened at the first Passover, with the lamb offered to celebrate freedom and a new inheritance.
There’s one last place we ought to explore the image of the lamb. It’s fleeting and beautiful; from the prophecy of Isaiah’s description of God’s land where His people will dwell: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, … the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,” (Isaiah 11:6-9). It’s such an amazing description of what Heaven will be like, my friends. Think how you see dogs barking at each other in the park. Think how you see drivers honking their horns at each other. Think of the arguments you see on the news and in our families: it’s so easy for us not to rub along peaceably with each other but humanity, indeed the whole of creation will do precisely that in Heaven: there will be peace. And this is achieved by the Cross. “Hail, O Cross, our only hope.”
Our Lord’s death on the Cross leads us to celebrate the freedom prefigured by Passover and the peace longed for by Isaiah. Your relationship with God - my relationship with God - is such a hugely precious thing, my brothers and sisters; so precious that someone died for the sake of that relationship! Jesus died for us so that we together, we the Church, can be the bride of Christ. Next time we’re inclined to belittle or take for granted our relationship with Jesus through apathy, or laziness, the influence of others, our sense of self-entitlement, pressures from work, choosing other priorities or whatever it might be, let’s just consider that this relationship we sometimes value so little is a relationship for which Jesus died on the Cross, enduring the spitting and the violence inflicted on Him on this day.
Christ is our reconciliation, breaking down the barrier between us and the Father, as St Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians 2:13-14: “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” I can’t imagine lambs arguing or being so caught up with themselves as to be at war with each other. As we see the lamb being led silently to the slaughter on this Good Friday, as we hear described St John’s vision of Heaven with the Lamb upon the throne being worshipped by a multitude impossible to count, may we be patient with one another and seek reconciliation with those whom we’ve come head to heads with. And let’s also be a people where we are willing to stop ourselves from getting in to the arguments in the first place, through counting to ten, being willing to let someone else take control, knowing what is just and true and responding appropriately to the call of God, not needing to assert ourselves in the presence of others.
My friends, on this Good Friday, this terrible instrument of torture becomes the means of our salvation. The innocent Lamb is offered that we may be put right in our relationship with God and others. May sin have no hold in our life as we value the beautiful relationship that is revealed on the Cross, where Jesus says as He hangs, ‘This is my Mother, this my Son.’ These were relationships He died for and we are to fortify ourselves in His service.