Our April Fellowship Meeting was on Maundy Thursday, and Rev Norah Norris, as she has done for many years, gave us an Easter message, which was so inspiring that it was decided to print it here in full to share with everyone. With Jan Cockington playing the piano, we commenced with the singing of several favourite Easter Hymns. Then Norah told us about Chocolate Lambs which she had seen in a catalogue of Easter Gifts along with the eggs and bunnies, and thought lambs - springtime, another left-over from the ancient spring fertility celebration that was the annual celebration of the return of the goddess Ostera, whose name we still use despite the celebration having been adopted by Christians nearly two thousand years ago. (An alternative explanation for the name used in English and German is that it meant the east, the place where the sun rises. It was the season of the rising sun, the season of new birth, celebrating spring, the annual gift of new life.)
But, Norah said, you’ve heard me before, talking about the mistake of using springtime symbols - flowers, rabbits, birds etc. which are part of the recurring cycle of nature at the time when we celebrate something quite different, the once for all, super-natural resurrection of Jesus the Christ. So do we reject the spring lambs along with the rabbits? No. The lamb has a deep symbolism that the rabbits lack. (So we each helped ourselves to an Easter Lamb.) The chocolate lambs came from Belgium. The ones on sale in Coles came from Germany, which makes Norah think that perhaps in Western Europe the lamb is a more familiar Easter symbol than it is in English speaking countries. Somehow for us the lamb lacks the popular appeal of chickens and rabbits. It hasn't been turned into a money- making chocolate treat, but it has been there in the background.
Jan played a few notes on the piano, and we remembered from our younger days – “All in the April Evening” - so we sang along. In most languages what we call Easter is called Pasche or Pascha from the Hebrew word for the Passover. This year Passover falls on 4th April (it doesn't always coincide with Easter). Passover is probably the greatest of all Jewish festivals and the one which has endured over a longer period than any other, its origins lost in the dim mists of time. It is generally believed that it goes back far beyond Moses and the deliverance from Egypt and in its remote origin consisted of two spring festivals, pastoral and agricultural, merging into one in historical times (4 or 5,000 BC). The agricultural feast of unleavened bread and bitter herbs marked the beginning of the harvest season (barley). The unleavened bread (both bread made in a hurry and discarding of reused, highly fermented yeast dough and new beginning) and bitter herbs (left from last year) indicated a break with the produce of the past, to be ready for the new. The pastoral festival was a different kind of occasion, marking the lambing season, with the first lamb being offered to God (like the first fruits of the harvest would be).
The sacrifice of the lamb on the altar was not presenting God with a dead carcass but releasing life, offering God the life of the lamb, letting the blood flow, releasing the life as a gift to God. Giving this gift brought the giver into communion with God. If it was a burnt offering, the smoke from the altar ascending to heaven was another link with God, with the hope that their gift would please God who had the power to send good or poor seasons. As the centuries passed, the two spring events, the sacrifice and the feast were combined into one celebration.
Later, after the Exodus from Egypt and the Covenants with God, the spring celebration became also a memorial of their escape from slavery in Egypt and the foods eaten were given added meaning as they recalled the actions of the first Passover night. And a growing consciousness of sin and the nation’s need for cleansing added to the idea of the lamb being a sacrifice for sin as well as an offering to ensure a good season.
After the exile, when all the great religious events were centralised in the Temple at Jerusalem, which became the only place where sacrifice was offered on the altar, the city became the place where their Passover meal was celebrated if possible. As the celebration became less associated with agriculture and more related to the history of their nation, a date was fixed: the first full moon after the spring equinox. Families would make their spring pilgrimage to Jerusalem, offer their sacrifice of a lamb in the Temple and then go in family groups to eat their Passover meal. At the table they related Israel’s history and gave thanks for God's goodness in the past and reaffirmed their loyalty to God, praying for mercy in the New Year ahead.
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the lamb shank at the meal became a reminder of the pascal lamb offered in the Temple and, to this day, the destruction of the Temple is recalled at the Passover meal.
Well, we can see how lambs are related to the Jewish Passover, but what has this to do with Jesus and Easter? According to St John, it was John the Baptist who first saw Jesus as the Lamb (John 1:19-23, 27-37.)We then listened to a recording, “Behold the Lamb of God that Taketh Away the Sin of the World”, from Handel’s Messiah.
In the years following the resurrection, Christians used the title Lamb of God for Jesus in their hymns, their preaching and their prayers. The Book of Revelation is full of this imagery. (We sang a hymn based on that New Testament image: “Come Let Us Join in Our Cheerful Songs”).
The early Christians identified Jesus with Old Testament prophecy, particularly Isaiah, which often spoke of sheep and lambs. In a story from the Book of Acts of the Apostles, one of the disciples, Phillip, was travelling about, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter” (Acts 8:26-38). Jesus' acceptance of death makes the lamb, the Lamb of God, a fitting symbol for Good Friday. But it is also fitting for Easter Day – the new lamb as a sign of new life – but more than the new life of flowers and rabbits and eggs in the recurring cycle of nature, and as the one who gave himself for the life of the world and whose living presence makes all things new. The Lamb of God for Good Friday and Easter. We concluded with the hymn “Glory to God on High,” a Closing Prayer, and listened to a recording of “Worthy Is the Lamb”
It was indeed a great privilege to hear this message, and to carry it with us for Good Friday, and then for Easter Day. Lillias Thomson expressed our thanks to both Norah and Jan.
Fellowship Members - please note these coming events in your diary
Wednesday 29th April Film Morning at the Capri Theatre, Goodwood “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Please see Norah Norris for tickets.
Thursday 7th May Fellowship Meeting. BYO lunch at 12.00noon. Kath March is Facilitator, and Audrey Scrimgeour is on Kitchen Duties. The theme for the meeting is “Anzac” - the UC Historical Society will have an exhibition in McGregor Hall of memorabilia which we can see. We will probably meet upstairs - everyone is welcome - if you have a wartime memento bring it along, or perhaps you have a story to share.
Friday 8th May Launch of the Community Concern Morning Teas, at Pilgrim Church Hall at 10.00am. There are further details on the notice-board.
Mission Packing Day Supports Opportunity Shops and communities in Central and Northern Australia, and in the far north of Western Australia. It is in June, and during May we will have a carton available each Sunday to gladly accept any goods you may care to bring. Fellowship groups also support the Work Stall at Old Timers Fete in Alice Springs - so new items are acceptable for this. Please speak with any of the Fellowship Members if you require further information.
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