Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 250,000 readers More than 32,000 links Updated every Sunday
Will you help support
Anglicans Online?

The Paypal logotype

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us by email
Be notified each week

Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand

South Africa
Sri Lanka

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
About our logo
Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

One of our most formative liturgical memories occurred during our earliest adult experience with the Palm Sunday liturgy. The readings for the day speak to Christ’s passion and show the crowd turning on him—a role sometimes taken on by the congregation in a corporate reading of the Gospel. It shook us out of our complacency for a moment when the words 'crucify' crossed our own lips.

Considering this context and learning of an old English tradition dating to the 15th through 17th centuries, called the 'Jack o' Lent', has caused us to raise an eyebrow. A straw man would be made up, kept in the parish during the course of Lent, and then ritually abused and burned on Palm Sunday—some would say as Judas Iscariot, though perhaps as a figure for the hated and brutal winter, or even just as the Lenten fast itself. These puppets made of straw, herring skins, and rags even gave rise to a custom that reads a bit like Hallowe'en in spring, hailing from 17th century Oxfordshire. School children would go to houses demanding a treat, singing and rattling wooden clappers:

Harings, Harings white and red
Ten a penny Lent's dead
Rise dame and give an egg
Or else a piece of bacon
One for Peter two for Paul
Three Jack a Lents all
Away Lent Away*

Certainly crowds have always had a proclivity to find a scapegoat. There seems to be human need for them dating back to antiquity. This is perhaps what the Old Testament practice of a literal scapegoat (whence the figurative term originates) offered for the people’s sins reflected—even as it pre-figured Christ. Nor is this unique to the Jewish and Christian traditions. Pre-Christian traditions throughout the Mediterranean gave up these sorts of offerings routinely.

Greek communities would routinely drive a beggar or old man out of the town. Typically, this was someone who had done no particular wrong but was on the margins of society. Know as the pharmakos, he was driven out of his community as a way to ward off evil, ill-omen, or ritual pollution. This fear of pollution, literal or metaphorical, creeps out most prominently among crowds of humans.

Noted author Ursula K. Le Guin, in her 1973 short story 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas', addresses this universal theme. This plotless, descriptive work describes an almost utopian city, time and location left to the reader's imagination, where a small innocent child is locked away to be a scapegoat. This forms the religious bargain whereby the city has peace and prosperity. She describes those who, either upon learning as children themselves of the horrific practice or later as they reflect while adults, choose to leave:

These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Did the Christians who burned the Jack o' Lent ever stop to reflect that, while they were sure they were burning a stand-in for Judas, the crowd that condemned Jesus before Pilate was just as certain that they too were removing someone who might be ill-omened from their midst? Moreover, this was the same person they had greeted with hosannas a mere week before. Did they ever have a moment of self-reflection, like those who walk away from Omelas?

A fear of unknown crowds, whether in the form of a wave of victims fleeing violence or in the spectre of political violence, has touched world headlines recently with the refugee crisis in Europe. Our own Archbishop of Canterbury has even gone on the record empathizing with those who fear those self-same refugees, claiming fear of refugees is 'entirely understandable'. (One also wonders precisely which crowd to be feared in this situation.) Regardless, Palm Sunday is a firm reminder that as we sing well warranted hosannas to the King of Kings today, that 'crucify' is only a few moments away as we walk these last few days of Lent.

And it is a reminder that 'crucify' is not the final word in the week ahead.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

All of us at Anglicans Online

20 March 2016

*'Jack o' Lent', in Oxford Index, text from A Dictionary of English Folklore.

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2015 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to