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Easter 2020: The Lamb Who Was Slain Has Come To Reign

Written by The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, posted on Sunday, April 12, 2020

Picture of butcher's shop by CarracciA very happy and blessed Easter to you – may the joy and peace of the Risen Lord be with you all today, and all those you care, pray for and love. 

As it is Easter Day, I have chosen a painting this morning to accompany this recorded homily.  You will be looking at a picture by Annibale Carracci, painted in the early 1580s. It is one of two paintings called ‘The Butcher’s Shop’. One is in the Kimbell Art Museum Fort Worth, Texas. This one hangs in the Christ Church Picture Gallery, and is one of the paintings left to us by Charles 1. It may have originally been commissioned by a Butcher’s Guild.

It is big picture of a busy butcher’s shop - much like you get in the Covered Market.  Meat hangs up; there are game birds.  Several staff chopping and prepping. Sharp knives, a saw, and some butcher’s blocks - all stained with blood.

But it is of course a religious picture, refracted into the everyday. Here, in the picture, we see the foreground, almost at knee height, so you have to look down to see it. a lamb about to be slain. Passive, motionless and without blemish. The picture gives us other clues as to its intentions.  Meat – like the soul in judgement – is weighed by one person in a balance.

An armed guard looks on – pointless in a butcher’s shop, I think you’ll agree.  And there are on-lookers too, as though watching butcher’s at work was a good way to spend your time. So this is a scene of ordinary slaughter. An ordinary day at a butcher’s shop is like an ordinary day in Palestine, two thousand years ago. Death is routine.

A dead sheep is not a very promising symbol for a new religious movement.  Yet from almost the first Easter, Christians have proclaimed that ‘the Lamb who was slain takes away the sins of the world’.  The image is problematic in today’s world for all sorts of reasons. Very few people have witnessed such a slaying, let alone a sacrifice. 

The Passion Narratives convert the shepherd of the sheep into one of the flock. Jesus becomes a victim, just one statistic among the numberless who were butchered by an autocratic State. Jesus is simply a routine execution – something to be started and finished, and then we can all go home. Led like a lamb to the slaughter.

A religion that takes a shepherd and turns him into a sheep is responsible for a deliberate conflation. Christian tradition portrays Jesus as the Saviour, and in so doing reaches back to the Jewish perception of the Passover, of scapegoating and of the Pascal Lamb. Here, in this death, and by the shedding of this blood, God will redeem his people. To be the victor, you must first be the victim. 

Whilst the feasting of the first Passovers was only for those who are initiated into the faith of the Old Testament, Easter reminds us that the salvation that comes through Jesus is to be altogether more universal in the New Testament. In Jesus, the boundaries between us – native and alien, family and stranger, kith and kin – are dissolved. Jesus asks us to make our meals inclusive – as it shall be in the Kingdom that is to come. So Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Let us keep this feast. But it is a feast in which the whole world is invited.

The joy of Easter is that the extraordinary life that bursts from the tomb does not just result in personal salvation for all who receive it. The resurrection, like the Passover, places responsibility on the community of the redeemed – to reach out to the alien and the stranger who also long to feast with us.

So on this Easter day, what do we remember? That this Jesus, who was dead, is now alive. Death has no more dominion. As C. S. Lewis said, part of the deep magic in Good Friday lies in surrendering to the wisdom of God. To let fear do its worse, and not to be afraid. To keep faith, knowing this is foolishness and weakness to the world; but to God, it is wisdom and strength. A resurrection strength, indeed, that will now save us. 

For in Christ being raised from the dead, we see the power of God can be seen in all its love and glory. From the darkness, light; from death, life; from desolation, jubilation. 

Hallelujah, He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Hallelujah!!