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Easter – a celebration of life by committing murder

The spring equinox heralds the vivid re-emergence of life from its long, folded withdrawal during cold, monochrome winter days and nights. The turn of winter into spring, bringing warmth and colour and sound to the once frosted, silent landscape is worthy indeed of celebration. And from its earliest times, humanity has invoked ritual to express its joy at the changing of the season, the chance again to grow food and feel the heat of the sun.

Easter is now the preferred name for this ancient rite which, purely for cultural reasons, does not fall exactly at the time of the astronomical equinox but is close enough to align the ceremony with the time when, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, days will lengthen, nights shorten, warmth increase and cold retreat. Time to feast and celebrate!

The celebration, of course, is about life. It is about those lives that have survived the darkness and harshness of winter and those new lives that will now emerge into the breathless beauty of nature… The Christian faith appropriated the original spring celebration and adopted this time to be a sacrament, reflecting upon the death and new life of its God, with the pain of crucifixion (winter) defeated by the resurrection (spring) – there will be life is the message. It is life that is worthy of celebration.

But tragically and appallingly, in countryside and city, village and town, nation after nation, this celebration will be stamped with blood, marked with violence, stained with cruelty. The celebration of life will be bloody and brutal, murderous in intent. The feast will be spiced with the trauma, screams and despair of innocent lives destroyed, salted with the tears of infants as their small bodies tremble in terror, and flavoured with the echo of their cries for their mothers as they are dragged and kicked towards the knife.

Lamb, we are told, is the food of choice for celebration. Lamb, which means what? Certainly not the living, breathing, nose-twitching, ear-turning, still-suckling animals who relish and delight in every moment of their wonder and amazement at the world around them. Not, certainly, the fragile babies who cling to the sight and sound of their mothers even as they explore the field around them, play with their fellows, and jump and run with the magic of the wind through their new-born fleeces and the miracle of sunlight that covers their bodies as spring suggests to them such a potential of abundance, and even the rain that falls upon them, the splendour of life-giving water as they turn their tiny faces towards the clouds overhead and soak up and drink in the stunning power of the world that surrounds them. At Easter, “lamb” does not mean these perfect bundles of joy and hope, these babies who savour the marvels that overwhelm them in every moment, their incredible passion for play and their profound and beautiful love for and dependence upon their mothers. Our witness to the majesty of those quiet, familial moments, the delicate expression of such gentleness and kindness, should warm and soothe our hearts and show us that the bond and kinship that we as humans experience from parent to child are not unique to us but shared with these loving others for whom the feelings felt between mother and child are our equal in depth and intent.

But no. Lamb, at Easter, does not mean these babies, and the enriching love of mother and child. At Easter, “lamb” means, “leg of lamb”, “shoulder of lamb”, “lamb steak” and “boneless lamb”, these words and phrases, even as they hint at an unwelcome truth, smother that truth in these culinary terms that describe only meal choices, selections for the dinner table, portions and ingredients for a range of recipe options. They are a lie because they refuse to tell the truth, to tell of the fate that befell those new-born infants.

Lamb at Easter is only possible with murder. When the farmer walks into the field and grabs the lamb by the neck and drags him from his mother, even as he cries and the mother cries, he keeps on walking, and locks the child into the crate that will take him to his death. The farmer knows he kills and he wants to kill, and he does not care for the mother who cries and he does not care for the child who cries, for no-one who cares for a mother and her infant child would drag them apart and leave them both to cry. And they do not just cry, but cry from the deepest hole in their hearts, that gut-turning, soul-tearing agony of hopelessness and loss when one is rocked, shook and shattered by an abandonment and loneliness that cannot, ever, be anything other than sheer despair, a mind-breaking horror of the most desperate sadness… because nothing will hurt like it hurts when the mother is torn from her baby and the baby is torn from his mother. They hurt. They really hurt. And the farmer is happy with their hurt and their agony and their misery. Not a thought for their unspeakable pain, only the counting of coins and notes, the numbers duly noted on the balance sheet.

And then the babies, crowded together, crushed against one another’s bodies, bewildered and terrified, pleading only for the sound and the smell of their gentle mothers but refused all comfort, are screamed at, yelled at, choked by the smell of fumes and the stink of trucks that close them in a nightmare that is only beginning and whose ending these small and frightened minds cannot possibly imagine. These babies cannot harm, cannot be violent, would not know nor understand violence, but every moment of the little that remains of their lives will be an onslaught of violence and aggression, cruelty and a ferocious pain, a physical torment that rips their minds apart and bursts their hearts open in a racing fear of outrageous noise and the poisonous stench of the machinery of slaughter.

Who would dream to drag a baby to a place of murder? Who would imagine it and then do it? Who would grab a baby animal by the throat and heave him to a place whose only purpose is to kill? Who would tie the baby up, slam him down and lock him to machines dripping with blood, the floor dripping with blood, and then force the knife across the baby’s throat even as he reaches with his nose to touch the killer’s hand in a gesture of love, begging for kindness?

Who would cut the baby’s throat and watch the life and love gush out and die in a frenzy of deadly agony?

We would.

Lamb is the food of choice for Easter. Whether we regard ourselves as adherents to an ancient faith with its awkward tales of godly death and resurrection or godless consumers relishing the time off from toil, we adore the chance to celebrate the awakening of spring and gather with others to feast. Why then, would we commit murder to do so? What kind of mind would derive pleasure from the bloody murder of babies? What kind of soul would find satisfaction in chomping down on the corpse parts of an infant who screamed in terror and whose eyes shed bitter tears with no mother to soothe his pain?

I hope that humans do not want to be bad and do not want to be cruel, but I also know that we do know that the “leg of lamb” and “lamb steak” and “shoulder of lamb” belonged to a defenceless, frightened, crying baby animal who had barely had time to enjoy the richness of life’s immeasurable possibilities and the delight he felt in the grass below his feet, the breeze upon his face and the extraordinary, impossible-to-describe love of his mother’s gentle caress, the exquisite warmth and safety of the touch of her body against his… before he was roughly, brutally torn from her and thrown to his fate, a journey and destination of nightmarish savagery. We know that. If we indulge in gorging upon the scraps of his body that remain after the violence of our blades then we are bad, we are cruel.

We may close our eyes and suppose we are good and grand in the great scheme of things, we may rejoice in the gathering of our family or friends around the dinner-table, and we may be pleased with the good deeds we believe we have done.

But we are not good.

Not if we celebrate life with death. Not with murder for a meal.

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December 2018
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