Last year at this time I had the opportunity to speak about Raymond, a lamb that appeared at our place at the Easter Vigil with the full expectation that he would be presented to the abbot during the course of the ceremony. He was, of course, presented and his appearance was really, the stuff of legends. He bleated. He bellowed. He was baaad. He did his job well, one of a long line. Over the years, the appearance of the lamb, which seems to be about a 150 year tradition, has been one of the highlights of the Easter ceremonies. Also, traditionally, the youngest members of the community, the novices are responsible for wrangling the lamb into a little basket and dragging it up to the abbot after the intercessions accompanied by some organ variation of Mary had a little lamb. It is an “awe” moment in an otherwise long and solemn liturgical rite.
Some years the lamb is easy to handle, some years he really needs quite a bit of tending. This year, the story was a bit different.
This year our guest lamb was named Bernard. He was the particular pet of a bright young fellow, an eight-year old by the name of Luke. Luke has raised Bernard since the lamb was abandoned by his mother at birth and Bernard is a very special lamb to Luke. I got this whole back story from my secretary because Luke is her nephew. Luke and his mother brought Bernard to the monastery on Holy Saturday afternoon and Bernard took up residence in the monastery courtyard. Like most of his lamb predecessors, he was loud, bleating rather callously in the face of monastic promises of silence, particularly on so holy a day. His vocal abilities however, were not really the problem. The issue with Bernard was that he was a bit, shall we say, long in the tooth, that is he was old and he was big. In fact he was way too big to fit in the basket. No new basket could be found. He was too large for the novices to pick up. He refused to be walked in on a leash. He rebelled against any kind of handling. Finally, to top it off, he was a bit incontinent, choosing to urinate about every 45 seconds. Overall, his character did not bode well for a late night church appearance. He was, quite obviously not a professional lamb like his predecessor Raymond. So, it was decided, after consultation with many parties, and at the near insistence of the novices that Bernard be ditched. He would not appear. The long tradition would be broken. Bernard was unemployed. When he heard the news, he bleated and wet the ground.
Fast forward. The vigil gets underway. The fire, the candle, the font, they all appear. All of the readings are read. the Alleluia is presented. The holy gifts are consecrated. Go in the peace of Christ, alleluia. It might have been fine, but for one small factor. Luke decided that he wanted to be at the mass where his longtime friend would be making such a spectacular appearance. No one realized Luke was coming. He sat on the front row. He wore his best suit. His hair was flattened within an inch of its life. Luke was ready. He sat through the whole service. Three hours later. No Bernard. Little Luke was in a panic, not only because of his disappointment, but because he didn’t know what might have happened to his little friend. There is nothing quite so disconsoling as the sight of a little boy who has been confounded in his expectations.
Now let’s jump back two thousand years. The lamb was taken from them. The lamb was gone. They were not likely to see the lamb again. How could they not have been upset? I think of poor Thomas. He has received such bad press, but really is his reaction to the “lamb crisis” presented in St. John’s Gospel so unusual?
Thomas was despondent that everything he had hoped for, everything he had dreamed of had been snatched away from him in the awful finality of the crucifixion. Is his reaction really so extraordinary?
Thomas was upset that all of his future plans, his expectations for the life of the world, for the life of the world to come had been taken away with the suddenness of men’s fickle responses to a mob mentality. Can we really blame him for his doubt?
Thomas was doubtful, at least at first, that the promise of the Word Made Flesh might be made true. Is his engagement with the question of Jesus so very different from the way ours some times is?
Thomas the doubter was a human person, prone to human responses and human reactions.
That was two thousand years ago. Now back to now.
You will be happy to know that Luke was later reunited with Bernard, his lamb. Thanks be to God they are both now safely home on the farm. You will be glad to know that Thomas was reunited with his lamb. He becomes one of the great evangelists offering the most profound confession of faith in all of the Gospels. “My Lord and my God.” You will be pleased to know, I hope, that in the great din of joy that is this Easter season we are to be reunited with our Lamb. See he is coming among us even now.
In the words we speak, words of peace, words of hope, words of divine mercy
In the presence of the children in all of us, anticipating, dreaming, generously desiring
In the sacrament we celebrate in full anticipation of being fed, of seeing our deepest dreams come true.
Bernard may be back on the farm but here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are we, blessed indeed, to be called to the supper of the Lamb.