Read Psalm 102.1-17
Be sure to find a King James Bible for 102.6.
In the KJV Psalm 102.6 references a pelican. Some have interpreted the speaker in that verse to be Jesus. Thomas Aquinas, writing before the KJV was published, wrote : "A pitying Pelican, dear Jesus, be; Save by the blood thou sheddest on the tree, My starving soul, - thy precious blod whereof One drop from every crime the world can free." - as found in Early Christian Hymns, 1908
Reflect on Thomas' words. How do the metaphors found in Psalm 102 and Thomas' hymn compare to the images found on this page?
It's also worth noting that John Calvin translates the word in Psalm 102 as "bat," instead of "pelican." Would changing the translation of Psalm 102 alter our understanding of the Pelican as a Christian symbol?
The Pelican offers a great way to enter a sermon on atonement, and provides a concrete image of one way people understand Christ's death as "life-giving." It could also be appropriate to use along with the Eucharist in several ways. Depending on your tradition, the image of the blood itself could be quite powerful. In other traditions, the image of sacrifice or life may be more appropriate.
Again, using it in conjunction with Communion could be appropriate. Holy Week is also a good time to use this particular symbol, especially on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
The Pelican as a Christian symbol has come to symbolize redemption through Jesus Christ. According to legend, when food was scarce a Pelican would pierce its own flesh to feed the young on its own lifeblood.
The resulting imagery is salvation through the blood of Jesus. This imagery is more or less comfortable for people depending on their denominations and understanding of atonement theory.
Pelicans have become rather rare as Christian symbols. This may be in part due to the discomfort some have with the bloody nature of the image, or to the loss of understanding of its symbolism. If you do happen to find a pelican in a church or place of Christian worship, you may find it at the top of a Latin cross as in the image below.
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