As we move into this ordinary time of the year and this cycle of readings from what should be the Gospel of Matthew in Year A. We now have a reading from the Gospel of John – because we need to hear this witness of John the Baptist and John the evangelist presents him in this most interesting way here in verse 29. It’s the first time that Jesus actually steps onto the stage in the gospel, but throughout this passage that we read today Jesus himself remains mute. Jesus is the one who is simply referred to and unlike usually in the gospel of John where the evangelist does most of the speaking is by way of the being the narrator. Here it’s John the Baptist, who gets most of the lines. Most of the discussion is speech from John the Baptist. John the Baptist here, the first thing he does is to point to Jesus.
The thing that he does is to point out to his disciples who are following him “This is the Lamb of God” – “Behold the Lamb of God!”
And what’s he referring to? What’s this evoking? Clearly this meant something to his disciples, and to his followers, to the early church, and something of course, that we have taken on in our liturgy. We repeat this phrase, Lamb of God throughout our Eucharist.
What is it about? Well the first time that we hear this, is in the book of Genesis, in chapter 22. When Abraham has finally been given the gift of a son, his son, Isaac and he’s delighted in his son, Isaac and then we’re told at the beginning of Chapter 22 of Genesis.
Then the Lord tested Abraham and he says “Abraham, Abraham” – you always know that God is serious when he repeats your name, when he tells your name twice. Abraham responds with “hinani” – “Here I am,” and then the Lord gives this most devastating terrible instruction to Abraham. Abraham, take your son, your only son, the son that you love, and sacrifice him on a mountain that I will show you.
I don’t know how any parent would be able to hear those words; how any parent would be able to deal with the grief, the confusion, the anger, the frustration that would be evoked by such words. Yet somehow Abraham is able to respond; somehow Abraham indeed begins this journey. As they go further into the wilderness, and find the place that the Lord had chosen.
Leaving his servants, the animals behind, he and Isaac make their way up this the mountain and then Isaac. He’s got the wood and the fire. Isaac asks this most perplexing question to Abraham: “Father, here is the wood. Here is the fire. But where is the lamb of sacrifice?”
Then Abraham gets this prophetic inside? And he says God himself will provide the. Lamb my son. It’s an awful, terrible kind of thing because we don’t quite know whether Abraham is kind of hinting to Isaac in that line that God will provide the lamb my son. He’s suggesting that “my son, you will be the one who will be the lamb; you will be the one who will be sacrificed.” But it is this insight that God is the one who will always provide the Lamb.
Then a few verses later they finally make it. Abraham ties up his son, he binds his son, which gives the title of this particular episode as the “Arcada sacrifice – the Binding of Isaac” and Isaac is there completely helpless. Even though he could have overpowered his father, even though he could have run away at any point. He is submissive to his father’s will and Abraham is there with the knife ready to plunge it into his son when the Angel of Lord appears and stops his hand.
And there in the bushes, caught by the horns is not a lamb, but a ram. It’s interesting that we’re expecting to find this lamb, but instead the Lord provides another animal. The ram is now there to be offered in the place of Isaac. This scene that we’re then pondering as we continue our journey through the scriptures. Where is the lamb, if God will provide the lamb?
Where will we find the lamb and the next significant place of course, is in the experience of being freed from slavery and the people are there in Egypt? Put up in slavery and the Lord finally is able to free them and they’re invited every family is invited to offer the sacrifice of another lamb a lamb and they will smear the blood. On the lentils on the door posts of their house and that will be enough to mark this house as a place where the worship of God is observed and so the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of death will pass over that house and not kill the first born child in in that house.
This image of the lamb this image of the sacrifice this image that somehow that there is this requirement for a lamb to be offered. And this desire that is there the lamb that is offered in the Passover is is kind of sufficient. But we know it’s not yet sufficient because it hasn’t yet fulfilled the prophetic utterance of Abraham. The God himself will provide the lamb, my son.
So then when we come to the person of Jesus, we begin to see how this is finally fulfilled. We see in the prophetic words of John the Baptist as he points the way – not to himself, not to all the things that he has done, and all of the achievements that he has accomplished – but he points away from himself, and he becomes that great prophetic figure – always inviting us to look to Jesus. Just as Mary is always pointing the way to her son, the true mark of a disciple of Jesus is someone who doesn’t point to all of their personal accomplishments but is always directing us and guiding us to look towards Jesus.
Only to the extent that we open our souls and continue to stare and to look upon the one who has first loved us and has first invited us into life that we will find our salvation. When one of the most wonderful things as a priest, both in celebrating the Eucharist and then in taking Holy Communion to the sick is that moment when I get to hold the host before the community and I get to make that declaration: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Note, sin is singular in the text here. It’s ‘harmatia’ here. It’s the singular. It’s the sin of all of our dysfunction, not particular sins that we commit but it’s the general dysfunction of our community, of our world, of humanity as a whole.
This is the Lamb of God, who takes away all of that junk, who removes all of that dysfunction, who removes all of those addictions, who takes away everything that prevents us from being united in love with the Father. To be able to hold the bread that has now become the body. You know that God will subject himself in humility to allow ordinary wheat and water to be changed and transformed to be the very presence of our loving God. The extraordinary gift that that is, I get to hold it in my hands, I get to place it in your hands, so that you can then take it and carry it yourself.
You can be a bearer of God’s mystery as you take it then and receive it on your in your mouth as you take it upon your lips as you allow God’s grace to change and transform us.
In the Old Testament, God was so separate and so holy and so amazing that no one was able or was capable of being able to simply look upon the face of God and live. Yet we, as the Christian people are able to take the very presence of God, the Lamb of God, now sacrificed for us, and to take it and to receive it and to consume it and to allow that very presence to be part of our own life.
It’s an extraordinary mystery as we begin this new season of life. This new season of discipleship and it’s not about our worthiness. It’s not about what we have accomplished, or what we have achieved, it’s not about pointing at any of the good things that we have done, things that have made us worthy to be bearers of God ‘s mystery. Not, it’s about the gift of God.
That, he is the one who provides the Lamb. He is the one who makes himself available for us. He is the one who does this that when Jesus opened his arms on the cross to die for us. We had done nothing, we had done nothing to satisfy, we had done nothing that was good or worthy, we had proven nothing.
In our love or in our fidelity, we would still send us – Paul tells us – and yet it’s in that moment, that Jesus opens his arms on the cross. It’s in that moment that he surrenders because he knows that we can’t do it, but he can. And he offers himself for us, so constantly. And so continually to bring about this salvation so that we can fulfill that prophetic words of our first reading today, in the first of the servant songs [that we will hear next on the Monday of Holy Week] that utterance that reminds us that it’s been surrendering ourselves and being true to who we were created to be from our mother’s womb.
Isaiah tells us we were created and called for this to be a light for the nations to let others see this glory. As we do? What John the Baptist says, and we point, the way to Jesus. As we have changed and transformed by the presence of Jesus in our lives as we receive the Eucharist today to let him do that work of changing me and transforming me and letting me be the very presence and power of God.
It’s indeed our privilege to take upon us that grace and peace that Paul speaks about. To let God be with us today, so that we can be those authentic witnesses, pointing others to the presence of Jesus, allowing others to know that indeed the Lamb of God, has come among us. The Lamb of God, has been sacrificed so that we can find freedom and salvation from all of our sin.