Saturday, January 22, 2011

Behold The Lamb of God - Something out of the Ordinary

John the Baptist was with some of his followers when he pointed to a man passing by and said,

"BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD!!!" (John 1:29)

The Lamb of God? The Gospel writer tells us that the man was Jesus but if you had been there with John what would you have thought? If you were not a Jew and heard this you might have begun looking around for a fuzzy baby sheep or goat that John seemed to claim was the pet or the property of God.

However, if you where a Jew who had come to the desert to hear John preach and to be baptized by him you would have a very different reaction. The use of the words “Lamb” and “God” in the same phrase would have trigger at least three powerful images of a Lamb of God.

One of these images come from the Prophet Isaiah. The prophet describes the coming savior as a suffering servant who will be “a light to the nations.” (Is 49:6) In his suffering he will be oppressed and afflicted and will go to his death silent, “like a lamb led to the slaughter.” (Is 53:7) In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus is silent at his trials and proceeds as a lamb to slaughter on the cross.

John the Baptist said something else about the man passing by, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

This would have lead us to think of the lambs sacrificed in the temple as sin offerings. The book of Leviticus says that the lamb will be sacrificed as , “atonement . . . for sin and the forgiveness of sins.” (Lev 4:35) This image of a Lamb as sacrifice for sin is very much the genesis of the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins, our forgiveness and our recovery from guilt.

At Mass, when the Lord is present physically as bread and wine, we will sing,
    “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!”
      Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!”
      Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace!”

If we have accepted God’s mercy and been reconciled we are forgiven. If we have accepted God forgiveness we are cured of our guilt. Now, forgiven and cured we can truly be at peace. “Happy are we who are called to this supper of the lord.”

The third great event involving a Lamb and God’s dealing with the Jews was the Passover Lamb, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the Jews the night before beginning their escape from slavery in Egypt.  The blood of this lamb protected the Jews as they prepared to begin their long journey to freedom and a new land.

It is this third image of the “blood of the Lamb” that seems to be the perspective of John, the evangelist, the author of our Gospel reading today. In John’s Gospel the first thing Jesus does at the beginning of his public ministry is to go to the temple and stop the animal sacrifice by chasing the sellers of animals out of the temple courtyard. For John this signaled that the final and perfect Passover Lamb had entered upon the stage of history. It would be the blood of this Lamb that will protect us, God’s people, on our journey to eternal life and resurrection.

John reports that the day after the miracle of the loaves and fishes Jesus tells the people this:

“I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever, eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)

This was a difficult teaching for some of Jesus’ followers and some left him at that time. For those who stayed, the means to follow His invitation to eat the body drink the blood of the Lamb of God was made clear by Jesus at the last supper.

The sacrifice of the final and perfect lamb would be made present for us as food and drink in the Eucharist of the Lord. Holding up the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, our pastor will say,

“This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, happy are we who are called to his supper.”
It is the blood of the Lamb that protects us on our journey through life to eternal life and resurrection. It is the Blood of the Lamb that strengthens for a life self sacrificing love, a life of forgiveness, and a life of great hope.

John, the Evangelist, in his great vision of heaven reported in the book of Revelation, says,

“I saw standing in the midst of the throne .... a lamb that seemed to have been slain.”(Rev 5:6) Later he noticed a huge crowd, “from every nation, race, people and tongue . . . wearing white robes and holding palm branches." (Rev 7:9) Then his guide said,

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14)

He goes on to explain,

“They will not hunger or thirst any more, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17)

Going back to the scene with John the Baptist we hear him explains further.

“I saw the spirit come down from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testify that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)

We have been baptized and confirmed in the Holy Spirit and we too testify that Jesus is the Son of God.

Behold, today in our midst, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

© Copyright 2011 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved.

No comments: