“Every family needs to get a lamb – a young lamb, a perfect little boy lamb, a lamb without any problems. Keep the lamb as a part of the family.”
The three-year-olds eagerly reached out their hands to stroke the beautiful oh-so-soft stuffed lamb mat I’d brought in for our lesson. We all imagined having a lamb come to live with us.
“After two weeks, you are to kill the lamb.”
Every eye turned from the lamb to me in horror.
I’d written “Oh boy! How sad!” in my lesson – but the looks on their faces said far more. This was not sad, this was devastating. I started to wonder if parents would be coming to me, wondering what I’d done to tramautize their children so.
But I continued on:
“But this was part of God’s great plan. God decided that the lamb could die instead of the firstborn child. After the lamb was dead, the people were supposed to paint the lamb’s blood on the doors of their houses.
All the people who believed God got a lamb. After two weeks, they killed the lamb and painted its blood on their doorposts.
That night, God sent the angel of death over all of Egypt. If the angel of death saw blood on the door, he passed over that house. But if a house didn’t have blood on the door, the firstborn child died.”
The horror remained, the kids silent in the face of such a terrible thing.
I started keening, only a fraction of what I’m sure was happening across Egypt that night. “All over Egypt, the people who didn’t believe God and didn’t kill a lamb started to wail. Every family’s firstborn child was dead – all except for the ones who had been saved by the blood of the lamb.”
“That’s so sad!” a little boy whispered, almost distraught.
And I recounted how Pharoah at last told the Israelites to go. I retold how God led the people of Israel with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.
Their faces brightened.
They tensed as I told them how Pharaoh changed his mind and began the chase.
And their faces showed their elation when God opened the Red Sea so the children of Israel could pass through and then smashed it closed over the Egyptian army.
As for me, I was still struck with the gravity of the Lamb. The story I’ve told so many times I forget the horror. A perfect young lamb, a spotless baby come to live with a human family. One of our own, our companion, dwelling among us. Dead.
All this, so that the firstborn needn’t die.
The first lamb, and the lamb of each Passover thereafter, was chosen by its family – destined by its perfection among the flock to be a sacrifice.
The final Lamb, the one to whom each little lamb points, chose willingly, of his own accord. He made his first sacrifice, to become flesh. He made a second, to dwell among us. And finally, he sacrificed what remained, emptied himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Bearing the curse of all mankind, he did so to save the ones he sacrificed to make his brothers.
What a grave and terrible and sobering thought.
What a wonderful and terrible and awesome reality.