The Paschal Lamb

As a reward for those of you who waded through last time’s Christianese, I decided this week I would post an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Calling Barabbas. I hope you like it, let me know your thoughts!

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Barabbas awoke to the rumble of his father’s voice. His mouth stuck with sleep and his head pounded behind his eyebrows, protesting awakening like a stampede. He threw back the stifling blankets surrounding him. His father’s voice sounded full of exhaustion and hit Barabbas’ ears in a monotone. “Hello, everyone,” he droned. Not wanting to miss anything, Barabbas scrambled to the edge of his bed. The air in the room felt cramped and close with the addition of his cousins, and he needed to get out.

In his haste, Barabbas knocked the toy animals he and Asher had been playing with off his bed and onto the floor. The resulting commotion drew groans from Martha and a deep-sleep sigh from Asher. Barabbas jumped at the noises and tiptoed around the pallets on the floor, trying to make his way to the doorway. His bare feet scuffed across the cool floor and he reached for the thick drapery blocking the archway into the hall.

As soon as he pushed back the curtain covering his door, he smelled the wonderful rich caramel of roasted lamb. It filled the house with its intoxicating scent and made the taste buds in his mouth water. Barabbas entered the hall, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. When he came to the gathering area, he peeked through the doorway and saw most of the family and guests assembled in the silent room. His grandparents, uncles, and aunts reclined on the soft cushions in the sunken center of the living area. Fresh air swirled about from the porch, and Barabbas breathed a deep breath.

He looked over to the center of everyone’s attention. His father held the sacrificial Paschal Lamb in a woven basket. The ceremonial basket could only be used on Passover to hold the Paschal Lamb. The rest of the year Barabbas’ mother kept it in a dark corner of the kitchen pantry awaiting its responsibility. Pure woven flax wrapped the lamb itself. His father and the other temple priests had already sacrificed, roasted, and prepared their family’s lamb as well as hundreds of thousands of others for the Seder dinner.

Barabbas’ eyes went from the lamb to his father. Layers of dried blood caked and cracked the fabric of his robes. In addition to the dried blood, a swath of fresh redness dripped down his father’s sleeves, still moist with life.

Barabbas’ breath stuck in his throat and pain seized his neck as he tried to swallow the sight, but then he remembered. Of course, the blood came from the sacrifices. His father had spent the day slaughtering thousands of lambs. His father’s appearance made Barabbas wonder what the altars and the temple must be like. The agony in his father’s eyes and drooped shoulders spoke of the suffering inherent in the duty of performing sacrifices. Barabbas’ stomach turned in protest as he stared.

Mary came in from the kitchen and broke the grave atmosphere of the room. “Mary, I have the Paschal Lamb for you,” his father said in a low tone. Barabbas’ mother continued,
“Take it to the kitchen and prepare it for the table.” Mary accepted the basket from Barabbas’ father and turned quietly back toward the kitchen.

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30 Minutes in the Life of Barabbas

Once inside, Barabbas breathed a great sigh of relief and thankfulness to be free of the mob of people who had descended on Jerusalem for the Passover festival. It was now almost past midday, so he hurried through the opulent interior of the temple – everything was polished to perfection, gold overlay and filigree seemed to be in every place at once, rich carpets and curtains adorned the walls, and great tables and chairs of Acacia wood filled enormous meeting rooms.

On his way, Barabbas passed dozens of priests and scribes. Many knew him to be the son of a chief priest and delayed him with greetings and hellos. Frustrated with his slow progress, Barabbas came to a broad wooden door, which he barely managed to push open. Inside he found his father at last. “Awe, Barabbas, you have finally come!” his father exclaimed. “I am famished! Where have you been?” Barabbas stepped into the chamber. It was a stone room filled with shelves containing hundreds of scrolls and a desk at one end. Colorful carpets covered the smooth marble of the floor and a small window opened out into the court. Barabbas loved the heady smell of the ancient articles and the way the golden light illuminated the dank room.

“I could hardly get through the streets!” he gasped as he struggled to shut the door and went to his father. He handed his father the basket before sitting tiredly on the floor at his feet.

Barabbas declared in wonder, “Father, I can never remember seeing this many people in Jerusalem at once. I fear the city might burst and fall apart like an old wine skin it is so full!” His father laughed heartily and nodded in agreement with his son.

“Yes, well, Passover is a unique time. Jerusalem opens her arms in peace to people from all over the known world, so they can come and celebrate the work of God.” His father opened the basket and took out a loaf of challah bread, a pile of dates, a handful of nuts, and a chunk of cheese. Barabbas looked on hungrily. “Come, Barabbas, share this meal with me,” his father encouraged. In the midst of eating, Barabbas looked up at his father’s desk and noticed the intriguing ancient parchments alongside his notes.

“What are you working on, father?” Barabbas queried.

“I am studying the manuscripts of Genesis,” he replied. Barabbas nodded, he had heard of Genesis long before this, but he was still puzzled.

“But why are you studying Genesis right now, father?” Barabbas continued. His father sighed and then answered tonelessly,

“I’m studying the stories about the beginning of Israel, so tomorrow during the Passover I can recount them. I’m going to tell about Moses and how God used him to rescue all of Israel from the Egyptians. I will tell the stories of our history and who we are. Passover is a time to remember them and praise God.” Barabbas was silent for a long moment. Then, he nodded his head and smiled.

“I’m glad God helps us,” he declared. At this, his father’s eyes brightened for a moment and he patted his son on the back. It was not long before they finished the small luncheon. Then, his father directed Barabbas,

“Go home and help your mother prepare for tomorrow.” Barabbas rose up obediently and gathered the basket from the desk. He headed toward the door of the workroom and then looked back at his father saying,

“Goodbye, Father! I wish I could study Genesis with you.”

“Goodbye, son.” Barabbas strode hesitantly back into the outer passage of the temple, and pushed the heavy door shut behind him.

~

Things had not stilled at all when he exited the temple building. In fact, even more people than before seemed to crowd around him. Just beyond the pillars, a young man bargained with a temple merchant, trying to purchase a lamb for the Passover meal. The merchant was charging an outrageous price because it was the last day lambs would be available to buy for the feast.

Nearby, a woman assisted an elderly couple trying to walk into the temple. Her child ran around the trio wanting to see everything at once. Next to them, a young boy sold grain for Thanksgiving Offerings. Barabbas weaved through these people and thousands more as he retraced his steps out of the temple complex. As he descended the steps of the temple and traipsed into the city, Barabbas glanced back, wishing he could stay in the temple to watch all the happenings of the next few days. He loved the excitement, which seemed to fill the place. He decided right there, as he glanced back at the glorious temple behind him, one day he would have a place there serving God like his father.

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