It is the Lenten season and as Easter draws near, the stores are overstocked with greeting cards that depict baby lambs frolicking in green meadows or running through flower-filled fields with the little children who are as innocent and carefree as the animals with whom they romp. And for the more religiously inclined, there are cards which depict the Christ, so often portrayed as the Good Shepherd. He is shown tenderly carrying a lamb who looks lovingly into the face of its protector. The messages inside these cards speak of love and renewal--of new beginnings.
The fashion industry also uses these springtime images of resurrection and new life to sell Easter outfits. Newspaper ads use drawings of wild flowers and little lambs, implying a connection between these pastoral images of innocence and youth and the people who will wear the clothes.
During this season it seems that the whole world rejoices in the exuberant lamb and the springtime world into which it has been born. And although most of their readers live in a world of concrete sidewalks and hi-rise buildings, even THE NEW YORK TIMES joins in this celebration of things pastoral. In fact, one of their columnists became quite poetic in her appreciation of springtime, in general, and little lambs, in particular. In the Sunday Magazine section Molly O'Neill wrote, movingly, that "animal and shepherd wander the grassy knoll without destination or care, a romantic idyll of innocence and freedom." She went on to say that "even without religious implications, young lambs invite a communion with nature."
Then Molly tells us how to achieve this communion with nature: Kill and eat the carefree, young lamb. She is a food editor, and the headline of her column explains her position: "A Little Lamb Eats Ivy: And clover. And fennel. And Garlic. Which Explains Why it Tastes So Good." She goes on to praise the lambs for eating those things, because their diet provides "built-in seasonings" for those who will devour it.
In this article, Molly continues to writes lyrically about her subject. She informs her readers that because baby lambs are "born in the month just prior to their slaughter, they will have grazed on young grasses like clover or on the salty marsh grasses of France and Ireland. The delicate herbaceousness of the meat is like an edible postcard from the animal's hometown."
In addition to her definition of lambs as "edible postcards" this food editor reports her theological insights regarding the slaughter of those innocents. Ms. O'Neill informs her readers that in "sacrificing an innocent we acknowledge the basic human paradox, that in order to live we take life." (Note: she does not even try to claim that we HAVE to take life in order to exist.) In her role as theologian/chef, Molly also explains that "those who baste the lamb after letting its blood, for Easter or Ramadan, feel chastened and protective. Reminded of their darkside, they look forward to the light."
These uplifting thoughts are followed by her recipe for "Baby Leg of Lamb." A full-color picture accompanies the article. It is an artsy photograph of a giant, raw lamb chop, haloed by the golden flames which will soon make it an "edible postcard."
But it is not only the semi-sophisticated readers of THE NEW YORK TIMES who accept this obscene juxtaposition of praise for the "innocence and freedom" of the newborn lamb with a recipe that calls for "2 legs of baby lamb (4 lbs each.)" Most people live with this schizophrenic contradiction.
An Easter catalog, "Expressions of Faith: Christian Cards and Gifts" arrived in the mail. It is definitely not for the sophisticate and there are no artsy photos. Both the illustrations and the text are best described as "precious." But the contradictory message it gives is the same as that which is found in more urbane publications.
One of the catalog's offerings is an Easter card series called "Warm & Whimsical." The first one features a baby lamb, delighted by the spring flowers that surround it. The inside message says "May the beauty of God's creation brighten your Easter season."
This is a chilling sentiment when one realizes that for those who receive these cards, the little lamb who expresses the "beauty of God's creation" will probably "brighten" the season by ending up, dead, on their plates for Easter Sunday dinner.
The catalog also offers Easter place mats for sale. Baby animals form the motif: cuddly bunnies, tiny chicks, and of course, a little lamb, are depicted. A prayer--grace before meals--is also printed on the mat. "For flowers and lambs and birds that sing, we thank you, Lord, for everything. Amen."
Do those who order these mats say this particular prayer of thanksgiving just before they cannibalize the lamb on their dinner plate?
Why not? Many who honor Jesus Christ celebrate his escape from the grave by condemning to death tens of thousands of gentle lambs. They will be brutally slaughtered so their corpses can be devoured on Easter Sunday--with thanks to God, and in honor of The Good Shepherd.
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Copyright 1998 by Humane Religion.