Sunday, January 16, 2011
Behold the Lamb of God
2nd Sunday after Epiphany- Cycle A.
“Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” are the words of John the Baptizer upon seeing his cousin Jesus walk by. The next day as he speaks with his disciples he points out Jesus to them and pointedly says “behold the Lamb of God…”.
The words he speaks are familiar to many of us; they are part of the language of faith and ritual, part of the visual imagery that adorns churches in stained glass and iconography. Our own Book of common prayer uses similar language in the “Great Litany” with the invocation; “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world have mercy on us”. The Eucharistic liturgy’s acclamation following the breaking of the bread during penitential seasons uses the same language. Yet; what does it mean to us. How do we understand the familiar words which were uttered in religious, cultural and social context so distant from our own?
Several Bible passages come to mind as we meditate on this remarkable declaration :
* Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22)-
A story well known from Sunday or Church School. God tests his servant Abraham by asking of him the life of his only son. Even the one whom God had promised would be his heir and a vehicle of blessing for all the nations. On the way to the sacrifice, a sad but faith filled Abraham answers his son’s inquiry as to the whereabouts of the sacrificial lamb with the now memorable words; The Lord will provide for himself a lamb, a sacrifice…”.
Upon the mount before Abraham can do harm to his beloved son, the angels’ voice calls from heaven and behold a ram, caught in the thicket becomes the provision of God , the substitute. God provides a lamb of his own as substitute for the innocent life of Isaac.
* The Passover (Exodus 12)
As the angel of death visits Egypt on a fateful night, slaves in their households eat a rushed meal of a lamb. As the families gather to table and tragedy passes over Egypt, the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door posts serves as a sign of deliverance from death and in the morning as a sign of freedom from the hardship of bondage.
St. Paul applies this Passover imagery to Christ himself and reminds Christians that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us”. These words at the fraction of the bread in every Eucharist make clear for Christians that this Lamb of God is a sign of deliverance from death and slavery .
* The daily sacrifices –
Morning and night at the Temple a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people and once a year on the great day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the inmost sanctum of the Jewish temple to sprinkle upon the altar the blood of sacrifice. For St. Peter this was but a sign of our own cleansing from sin by the sacrifice of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18-21: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. ..”
And the author of Hebrews reminds us that ;
" How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:13-14)
* The suffering servant-Isaiah 53 -
The servant of God, taken away helpless and a lamb before those who shear it and speaking not a word…
Isaiah 53:7 "...He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth..."
The book of Acts chapter 8:32 links this reference of Isaiah to Jesus Christ himself.
4. The lamb in Revelation-
It is in the Revelation of St. John that the most references appear to the Lamb, not only furthering the theme of his death , and sacrifice but going beyond to a destiny beyond imagining…the lamb worshiped.
The lamb slain-
Revelation 5:6- "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders"
The lamb victorious-
Revelation 17:14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
The Lamb adored-
Revelation 5:13 "...Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
The lamb as healer and restorer-
Revelation 7:17-"...For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”
Revelation 22:3 "...No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him..."
“Behold the Lamb of God…” ! Familiar worlds that contain powerful images and spiritual truth. Jesus; Lamb of God, substitute, our Passover, deliverer from death and slavery, sacrifice for sin! Jesus lamb of God, suffering servant, slain from the foundation of the world, victorious, adored, healer and restorer.!
Oh Lamb of God that takes way the sins of the world have mercy on us! Oh Lamb of God that takes way the sins of the world have mercy on us, Oh Lamb of God that takes way the sins of the world grants us your peace!