John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of Godthat takes away the sin of the world.’ (John 1:39)
|Adoration of the Mystic Lamb - van Eyck - Ghent|
Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany, when we recalled the coming of the wise men to worship the Child of Bethlehem. Their precious gifts manifested the Lord Jesus as king, as God made man, and as the one destined to suffer. Today, as we pick up once again the long thread of Sundays in Ordinary Time, our liturgy still retains an element of Epiphany, of manifestation of Jesus to the world. In our gospel reading we see that the Child of Bethlehem has grown up into a man, and John reveals him to us and to the crowd of penitent people huddling on the banks of the Jordan as ‘the Lamb of God’ who has come to deliver us from the power and oppression of sin. The more seasoned Christians might find themselves at a disadvantage here, because we so often hear Jesus described in this way, that we may have become desensitised to the evocative description of Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’. Likewise, others may find this expression quite puzzling.
In what way is Jesus a “lamb”, if not the lamb provided by God? In Biblical language, describing Jesus as the Lamb of God does not necessarily attribute to him qualities of meekness and gentleness, but rather it manifests him as innocent, untainted by evil, and above all as one given by God the Father as a victim for a sacrifice. In this particular case, John’s gospel goes on to associate the image of a sacrificial lamb with Jesus throughout its pages, culminating on Good Friday when Jesus dies on Calvary in the same moment that the atoning sacrifice of a lamb was taking place at the Jerusalem temple. So, as John the Baptist says to us, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God’, he is manifesting Jesus to us as the one ‘spotless victim’ who sacrificed himself on the cross so that we may have new life in him. His action on the Cross, performed out of love for us, is the only means capable of freeing us from whatever holds us captive in life, principally from sin, its retribution, and the guilt that originates from it.
But in our reading there is another important element. We read that John starts to speak as he sees ‘Jesus coming towards him’ (John 1:29). Jesus moves towards John, and with him, also towards the crowd of people that had come to him to seek forgiveness and spiritual healing. Jesus goes to them in the same way that he comes to us when we seek forgiveness. Love moves him towards us. He is not afraid of being with us when we feel weighed down by guilt or remorse. He comes to us whenever we look for new life to deliver us from that which holds us down through the power of the blood he shed for us.
‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. Every time we come to Mass we hear these words from the priest as he holds up the Body and Blood of the Lord before us as an invitation to Communion. We are given these words as an encouragement to approach with faith and confidence the altar upon which the sacrifice of Jesus is made present once more, and there to encounter and to receive the Lamb of God as he comes to us in his great love.
One rather moving and well known hymn to accompany today’s reading could be Charlotte Elliott’s ‘Just as I am’ and so I leave you with her meditation on the Lamb of God and the Eucharist.
Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,O Lamb of God, I come.