so many questions
Let me say up front that I am not at all religious. However I was brought up a Christian - a good Church of England girl. Well I was taken to church every Sunday and went to Sunday school, and because I attended a government grammar school, every morning we had a mini Church of England service, complete with prayers, hymns and text of the day. Plus we had 'Scripture' lessons for at least the first few years - maybe all the way to O-level (age 16). I can't quite remember now. Anyway I know the Bible, and this has held me in good stead when I studied English literature well all western literature - all those metaphors and traditions. It also acquainted me with various traditional foods and festivals.
When I came to Australia I was a bit discombobulated, for lack of a better word, because the seasons didn't match the festivals. The Christian festivals are just not right here. Christianity is so very much a northern hemisphere religion that ties into ancient pagan festivals that celebrate and mourn the changing of the seasons. Hence Good Friday, is about the death of winter - although why one should mourn that I don't know - maybe it's the last gasp of winter - even perhaps a reminder that winter will come again. Easter, of course, is very definitely about the coming of spring. Joy to the world and so on. Babies and the growth of new crops. None of that fits here.
Both of those festivals - Good Friday and Easter - tie in with the pagan festival of Ostara (otherwise known as Eostre → Easter), which celebrates the vernal equinox. More Easter than Good Friday though.
"the second of three spring celebrations (the midpoint between Imbolc and Beltane), during which light and darkness are again in balance, with light on the rise. It is a time of new beginnings and of life emerging further from the grips of winter." Wikipedia
Balance is perhaps the key word here - with the balance between life and death being key. Sometimes you can't have one without the other - the flower dies in order for the seed to be born.
I also became aware here in Australia that different countries had different ways of celebrating these things. Orthodox Easter is on a different date even - you could ask 'how can that be'? After all Jesus was surely crucified and rose from the dead on just one occasion. Not twice. But I won't go there. I'm sure it's just different ways of calculating dates. But I did become more aware of the lamb thing - which I shall come back to.
Today is Good Friday and for some reason I started to wonder why is it called 'Good'? After all there's nothing good about it is there? The horrible, gruesome death of the son of God is surely not something to celebrate. After all in France it's called 'Le Vendredi Saint' which means sacred, saintly or holy - which makes more sense. And it's similar in other languages too. So I looked it up. A few reasons were given, the most likely being that it is from the Old English usage of the word meaning 'good' in the sense of being holy - as in 'the good book' for the Bible.
The Huffington Post reported that Good Friday is 'good' because it led to the Resurrection which is super good.
"That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations."
"A third answer, some believe, is that the "good" in Good Friday was derived from "God" or "God's Friday" — the way the term "goodbye" comes from a contraction of the phrase "God Be With You." Fiza Pirani - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
And to mind, if that's true then it makes God a god to be feared. An unkind God to put it mildly. It implies that he got what he wanted and what he wanted was the death of his only son.
Now that I think about it, that second theory explains the hot cross bun. The cross is obviously a reminder of the crucifixion, but why attach it to a sweet bun? A treat. After all as I have said already, there is nothing good about Good Friday. But maybe it is apt because it reminds us of the joy to come. That even in the blackest possible moment there is still the hope of joy. Bitter sweet.
I suppose the fact that the hot cross bun is now available virtually all year is a symbol in itself of the decline of Christianity in the western world. The cross no longer has that symbolism of old - it's just a bit of decoration, though you would have to wonder why they can't just provide fruit buns all year and then stick a cross on them for Good Friday. Which would make them special and would also remind us perhaps of the meaning of Good Friday. Is this a purely commercial decision? Too expensive to stick a cross on on just one day of the year, so do it all the time?
I went for a shorter walk this morning - it was a bit warm and I have also somehow strained my back a bit and as I walked I thought about all this - and how different a feeling there was in the air. Everything was so quiet - hardly anyone was out and about. I did not see a single walker. The shops are all closed - I think it might be the only day left in the year when they are - maybe Christmas Day too. A feeling of waiting. Such is the power of my early Christian upbringing that I sensed this. Maybe if it wasn't Good Friday I would never have noticed that the day was any different - which it possibly isn't. Although then again every day is unique. As I said I am not religious, but I do believe that Jesus existed and that he was crucified and that he (or an associate) preached all those wonderful Christian concepts (turn the other cheek, do unto others, as you would be done by, love thy neighbour?) that nobody - least of all many who profess to be Christians (Putin anyone?) - follows. Besides I like hot cross buns.
People used to fast on Good Friday - and so am I today. Not because it's Good Friday though. Just because I need to fast again because I piled on half a kilo last week. In times gone by they broke that fast with fish - no meat. So your Good Friday dinner should be fish people. Alas the local fish and chip shop will be closed.
But the bridge between Good Friday and Easter - death and resurrection; paganism and Christianity is lamb. And this is where it all gets somewhat gruesome. It's a bridge because it is simultaneously a sacrifice and a celebration.
Jesus is also known as the Lamb of God and this was one of my other questions - Why? I did look it up but got a bit bemused by all the religious stuff that I found. My own personal feeling is that lamb is traditionally a sacrificial animal. Again why?
Well the notion of sacrifice is very ancient. The gods ruled the world and when things went wrong - like when it was cold and dark and nothing would grow, the gods needed to be appeased, because it was probably something that you had done that had caused the problem, and so sacrifices, were made - a sort of bribe. So what would you sacrifice, give up? Well if the need was dire then you would sacrifice something precious and, of course, this may well have been a human sacrifice - something supremely precious and pure - a child, a virgin, your king ... When human sacrifice was abandoned they turned to animals, and again the emphasis was on precious and pure - hence baby animals, such as kids and lambs. The Old Testament is littered with sacrifices of lambs.
It was John the Baptist who first called Jesus the Lamb of God - "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". In the Bible anyway - well in the words of whoever wrote the Gospel of John. And whoever this was they would have known that Jesus did, in fact, sacrifice himself for the world. This somewhat creepy and repulsive painting, actually does illustrate it all pretty clearly I guess.
And here's a somewhat amusing and simultaneously creepy aside. In recent times the good people of Ghent had an altar piece painted by Van Eyk restored. It pictured the Lamb of God with blood pouring from his chest into a cup. Christianity is truly a gruesome, mildly pagan kind of religion it seems to me. Anyway below is a before and after picture of the lamb's head. The restoration caused outrage because the new version, they said, looked very humanoid - even like a botoxed girl on Instagram. What do you think? I have to say there seems to have been more than a bit of distortion of the original face surely? I mean the eyes are in a completely different place, and the mouth is a completely different shape.
Anyway - enough of religion - on to lamb. Lamb is the traditional Easter food - especially to the Greeks. It is yet another demonstration of why Christianity does not suit Australia. It's not the time for lambs - that's spring surely, although I'm guessing that modern agriculture has probably even distorted that. There's certainly lamb in the shops. At a price. So I looked in the supermarket magazines which, of course, are full of Easter things, to find to my surprise that Woolworths had just one lamb recipe - Slow-roasted massaman lamb shoulder - and that had an Asian twist to it. Coles did a bit better. There were a few lamb recipes but only one for a roast - Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with beer glaze. Woolworths were mostly championing pork and Coles liked sausages.
Really though it should be a whole lamb cooked on a spit. I remember once eating this, cooked by our late friend Max in his garden. I believe it took them all day and it was delicious. In some ways I guess it is appropriate that lamb be the meat we eat at Easter, although when you start to think of the whole sacrifice thing it's enough to make you vegetarian. The price of lamb today has made it doubly precious and therefore suitable for a celebratory meal. And what could be more celebratory than the resurrection of the dead - although not of the poor lamb.
"When I was a kid, roast lamb - leg or shoulder was a feast. A once-a-month celebration of sizzling fat and rose-pink meat, clear, jewel-bright roasting and juices, and, it being the 1960s, a short fat jug of mint sauce. Lamb has long been the food of celebration. I have seen whole animals cooked on a spit, popping and crackling over the flames, in the Middle East, Greece and Morocco. The copious fat, especially on an older animal, lends much smoke to the event, the smell of the roasting meat adding an air of anticipation and of revelry ahead.
Now that less meat is eaten, a roast leg or shoulder of lamb arrives at the table to more delight than ever. I roasted maybe two legs and three shoulder of lamb during the whole of last year. They became rare and much thought-about events - as I feel meat-eating should be." Nigel Slater
It's pagan isn't it? If Jesus is the Lamb of God then you are eating Him. It's gruesome - as is the Eucharist whereby you are eating his blood and his body. True human sacrifice that is repeated over and over again, even celebrated at this time of year. It honestly doesn't bear much thinking about, although it won't stop me cooking lamb now and again - although increasingly rarely.
A bit of a ramble. Good Friday does strange things to me. We shall be eating ham on Easter Sunday, and hunting chocolate eggs in the garden, which according to our youngest grandchild should be green. So the ham will be appropriate.
And that flag/pennant in the picture at the top of the page. That's another question. It often appears with the lamb of god. And no it's not the English flag and/or the cross of St. George. I suppose the red signifies blood and the cross is, of course, the cross. And lots of those early Christians wore it didn't they? Crusaders and the Templars and such like. And what about the Red Cross organisation? So I looked up St George, and it seems he adopted that cross because he was a Crusader.
Good Friday and Easter - a time of blood even at Easter which really ought to be about chocolate. And the supermarkets agree. There is much more chocolate than lamb in their magazines this month.