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The Significance of the Lamb

One Easter symbol that often goes overlooked is the lamb. When I would see little stuffed lambs in the Easter section of our local store, I tended to think the symbol was about spring and new life. That’s partly true, but the lamb represents so much more.

The lamb represents Jesus, the lamb of God and our passover lamb, whose sacrifice takes away the sins of the world and reconciles us to God. So when we eat lamb on Easter, we are pointing to Christ and rejoicing in his gift to us!

The First Passover Lamb

Lamb symbolism is rooted in the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus, as God was preparing to deliver the Israelites from slavery, he instructed his people to sacrifice a lamb, to spread the blood of the lamb over the doorposts, and to eat the lamb:

Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. (Exodus 12:7-8).

This event became known as Passover because the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb and passed over the house, sparing the people inside. And after delivering the Israelites from Egypt, God instructed his people to remember this Passover every year by eating the Passover meal. While they ate the meal they were to recount the story of how God faithfully delivered his people from the hands of the Egyptians and made the Israelites a people set apart for himself:

And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses (Exodus 12:26-27).

Faithful Jews celebrated Passover every year. They gathered together in Jerusalem and ate the Passover Seder Meal, a meal of remembrance where the story of their salvation was told and foods that symbolized their journey were eaten.

Jesus Our Passover Lamb

With the Hebrew Passover as our backdrop, the Christian understanding of the importance of the sacrificial Lamb begins to gain new significance. We are first given a hint of a deeper meaning in John 1 when John the Baptist says of Jesus:

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

This declaration is significant because it ties Jesus’ sacrifice to the Old Testament tradition of sacrificing lambs as offerings to God. 

Our understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God grows even more during the Last Supper. Jesus is in Jerusalem, celebrating the Passover Seder with his disciples. He gives the Passover meal a new meaning when he stands up before the disciples and identifies the bread as his body, soon to be sacrificed, and the wine as his blood soon to be shed.

Jesus is our passover lamb, giving his body for us to eat, and shedding his blood for our salvation. Just as the Israelites were rescued from slavery, we will be rescued from the bondage of sin and death. The Passover meal becomes the Eucharist instituted by Christ himself. Paul draws on these ideas in his letter to the Corinthians:

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.Let us therefore celebrate the festival (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Pascha & The Resurrected Lamb

In much of the Christian world, “Pascha” or some other variation of “Passover” is the name used for Easter. This name points to the fact that Easter is a continued celebration of Passover, with Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

By thinking of Easter as “Pascha,” we are also reminded of Jesus as the resurrected lamb, as seen especially in the book of Revelation. There, Jesus is depicted as the living lamb that had been slain:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain (Revelation 5:6).

The image of the resurrected lamb is often used in Christian art, music, and liturgy to represent the sacrifice of Jesus and his victory over sin and death. Jesus as the Lamb of God is often depicted with a cross-emblazoned banner, known as the Resurrection Banner which symbolizes the victory of the resurrection.

The Lamb in the Christian Home

Traditionally, in the Christian home, the lamb is the prominent Easter symbol. Lamb is eaten as the main course for the Easter meal, the butter is pressed into the shape of a lamb and placed on the dining table, lambs made of chocolate or sugar are in Easter baskets, and the central dessert in a beautiful Easter cake made in the shape of a lamb.

As we celebrate Easter, let us remember the significance of the lamb and what it represents for Christians. The lamb is a powerful symbol of sacrifice, but it also represents hope and redemption. Just as the Israelites were saved from slavery in Egypt by the blood of the lamb, we are saved from sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Passover Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world. May the symbol of the lamb remind us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and the hope that we have through his resurrection. He won for us victory over sin and death and he will reign as King forever!

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