There is much symbolism of lambs from Genesis to Revelation; beginning to end; alpha to omega.

  • Genesis 4: Cain and Abel - Abel's lamb was the first acceptable sacrifice. In our Eucharist we pray ‘Lamb of God...’
  • Genesis 22: Abraham and Isaac/testing and trust- 'God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son'
  • Exodus 12 - the Passover lamb: the story of deliverance resonates so well with the Easter story - blood smeared on the lintel saves the Israelites from God's judgement on the firstborn of the Egyptians. The Passover lamb that they eat shall not have any of its bones broken – (as John picks up in19:36; 'these things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled: "None of his bones shall be broken"' - Jesus is the Passover lamb.)

Then comes a change with the prophets:

  • Isaiah 1:11 - God does not delight in blood of lambs
  • Isaiah 40.11: 'He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep'
  • Isaiah 53.7: 'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.'

The lamb is a symbol of meekness, obedience. Then comes Jesus - John the Baptist described him as the amnos/Lamb of God: John 1.29: 'The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!' John 1.36: 'and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"’

Jesus picks up on Isaiah, transforms the image and carries it further: he is not only the Lamb of God, he is also the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep. This morning's passage immediately follows: 'I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep ... I know my own and my own know me ... For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord' - Jesus is both shepherd and sheep.

We are his sheep; what a good model for us! The following information downloaded from Google shows just how accurate Jesus was in his summation of humanity's major characteristics:

'Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. There is safety in numbers ... When one sheep moves, the rest will follow, even if it is not a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of sheep is so strong that it caused the death of 400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep plunged to their death after one of the sheep tried to cross a 15-meter deep ravine, and the rest of the flock followed. Even from birth, lambs are taught to follow the older members of the flock. Ewes encourage their lambs to follow. The dominant members of the flock usually lead, followed by the submissive ones ... Sheep are very social animals ... A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the rest of the flock ...'

It sums us up quite nicely, doesn't it? Not altogether flattering! On balance, I think I prefer being compared to a sheep than to a lemming, but the implication is the same. We are easily frightened; we flock together for safety; we follow the leader, often blindly and into danger. We don't like to be on our own - solitary confinement is hell.

After the resurrection the disciples learnt to make connections between the scriptures they had learned, as in Isaiah, and the life of Jesus they had witnessed.
In the Acts of the Apostles 8.32 we see Philip speaking to the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading Isaiah: 'Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us' (1 Corinthians 5).

Then we come to our reading from Revelation. Did you know? The writer of Revelation uses arnion/lamb 28 times to describe risen Christ as ruler of the world - this lamb is a slain lamb whose death has redeeming power. Revelation 7.17: For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes'

What does this say about God's rule? The Almighty, Omnipotent, all-powerful? And what should it mean for our own attitude to power? The power of a lamb. The lamb and the shepherd are one. In the Lady Chapel - the window - Jesus the Good Shepherd holds the lamb. Look at his face. There's no tender smile; a serious face, introspective; He is also a lamb. Easter, the resurrection, shows that the power of a Lamb has conquered the worst evil of all - death: 'Tabitha, get up' echoes Jesus's 'Talitha, kum' to the daughter of Jairus. We have that promise so why should we still be afraid? Jesus knew we would be; He knew just how vulnerable his flock are: ‘I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.' (Luke 10:3). Yet He still sent them out! We are lambs too; Jesus sends us out in the same way.

He told Peter three times at breakfast on the beach to 'feed my lambs/tend my sheep’. Jesus sends us out like lambs to be shepherds - as He was. He calls us - we, vulnerable lambs that we are - to be shepherds, in whatever vocation we have in this world.

Do you know William Blake's poem, so wonderfully set to music by the late Sir John Tavener?

The Lamb

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!

We are, of course, still afraid, because we are still human, but we we are still Jesus's beloved sheep. Some can trust and have confidence. At Easter Jesus was both shepherd and sacrificial lamb - the Lamb who laid down his life for the rest of the flock - us. A willing Victim of misused power - He died to remove from us the fear of death which so often leads to our misuse of power: the Lamb was sacrificed to set us free from death. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus can say: 'My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.' He knows because He is the Lamb who has already trodden that road to lead the way. That is why we rejoice in lambs at Easter.

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter 
Acts 9:36-43; Rev 7:9-17; John 10:22-30