It is morning in the camp. The sounds of a fresh day settle in. Children run, playing mischievously, darting in and out of tents. Metal pots clink as breakfast is prepared. Manna again. The camp is accustomed to the daily rhythm of food sent from Heaven.
Meals are eaten and the remains cleared away. All is prepared for the day, this busy day. Today is a day for gathering as a group – cousins, grand-parents, all will be there.
The sounds of animals can be heard throughout the camp, the quiet bleating of sheep and of goats. The priest sounds the trumpet and tents begin to empty. Babies are brought out on their others’ hips. Toddlers skip along, holding onto the hands of their grandmothers. It is a noisy gathering. But a hopeful one. And then, there is stillness. A reverential hush falls over the crowd.
A goat is led into their midst, and a priest holds him. A prayer is said for the people, over the people. And all the while, the priest holds his hands steadily on the head of the goat. Forgive their sins, he cries. Forgive every sin, known and unknown. And the people are sober as they consider their days previous. Remembering.
A man steps forward. A young man, a fit man. And the priest releases the goat to this man. Go, he is told. And so he goes. Far and high, up into the mountainous wilderness surrounding the camp. The goat steps eagerly, unburdened. But the man is aware. He must lead his animal as far away from the camp as is possible. Only then, only then.
The animal treads on, until the man is weary and he knows that the distance covered is enough. And he releases the goat gently, coaxing him into eating some grass after so long traveling. And then he turns to leave, for the walk back to camp will take a long while. And as he begins the return, he is joyful. So very joyful. Left behind, his heart cries. All is left behind! And the walk does not feel so long now.
He returns to camp after many hours, weary, but with a heart filled. And the people sleep well, because of what is left behind. High on a mountain somewhere, is a goat bearing their shame – and they cannot help but be grateful for the transfer of the sins that mark their days.
And then a few hundreds years later, something better arrives in the camp. This time, it is a Lamb. And he is beautiful. But for Him, the walk up the mountain is neither one of ease, nor is it joyful. There are no gentle hands placed on His head, but instead a crown – twisted from thorns, sharp and biting. His wounds are raw. He bleeds. He is prodded sharply as He walks, and whipped as he stumbles. Sorrow marks his face. And as he climbs toward where he will be left, his strength fails.
The transfer this time, is harsh.
A Cross awaits this Lamb, and He is placed on it. High above the city, so that all can see His shame, but only some feel it. He bleeds and hangs, and all the while He loves. And the sacrifice of the goat looks so tame now.
And it is. Because what can compare with a sacrifice that exchanges sin and blood for life and redemption? The goat followed, but the Lamb led. The goat symbolized, but the Lamb fulfilled. The goat was left high on a mountain, lost. But the Lamb left the mountain, and came to find.
This Lamb became Easter for us.
May we celebrate Him always.