Isaiah 49, 3-6 + Psalm 40 + 1 Corinthians 1, 1-3 + John 1, 29-34
Last Sunday we had an image of Jesus standing in line with sinners to be baptized. It is an image that unmistakably reveals how God seeks us and sends his Son to become one with us even in our sinfulness. Today with John’s Gospel we are drawn a little deeper into this mystery of God’s love proposed by John the Baptist. The fourth gospel is a gospel of symbols and just a week after proclaiming Matthew’s version of the Baptism of Jesus, we pick up John’s Gospel which curiously does not record any Baptism at all. With the other Gospels a voice from the heavens identifies and speaks of the indentity of Jesus. In John’s Gospel there is no voice other than that of John the Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God!
For the Jewish people of the time, and even today, a Lamb evokes no image of a meek and gentle creature that is cute and cuddly. Far from it. For people steeped in the images of the Old Testament, a Lamb evokes two memories. The Passover image of the victim lamb whose blood sprinkled on the doorposts saves the People of God from the angel of death, and the Lamb of the Atonement Feast sent into the desert to die after ritually taking on the burdon of the people’s sins. There is no hint of meekness or the romantic ideas we have about sweet little white wooly lambs.
When John uses this image, it is about sacrifice. So what we inherit with this Gospel is the earliest church’s reflection upon and expression of their understanding of Christ’s death and mission, to undo the consequences of sin and lead us back to union with God.
Before a single miracle takes place, before Jesus utters a single word, his identity and his mission are established here. Everything he does and everything he says from now on in John’s Gospel will lead to this new sacrifice. Someone has finally come to take away sin, once and for all, and they will do it by sacrifie. To understand this we must undertand what sacrifice is all about. Those Temple sacrifices were a way of returning something to God: the first fruits of the harvest, the Lamb, a Dove, whatever. The whole point was offering something to God on behalf of one’s self. A returning to God as a signal of one’s desire to be with God or return to God. By offering sacrifice, the alienation that sin causes is reversed. In giving up the life of the victim, the sinner gives up their own life – returning it back to God. Since sin is a turning away from God, sacrifice turns one back to God. It is not that God needs the offering, but that the one making the offering or the sacrifice needs to be lifted up or turned back to God. So any idea that God is expecting or demanding some suffering sacrifice has this all wrong. We need the sacrifice, not God.
I find it fascinating that John leads the people out of Jerusalem, away from the Temple. He takes them out of that old sacrifice context and leads them to a new Temple, Jesus. He leads them to a new, final, and perfect sacrifice: the Lamb of God. John is saying that Jesus will be the one who offers the final sacrifice uniting divinity and humanity. The Old Testament sacrifices never were enough. They never dealt with the real problem of sin. They had to be offered again and again and again. In Jesus however, it is finished, as Jesus himself says at the final moment of his sacrifice.
Already then in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we are brought to the last Chapter. The theme is set. The Word that was with the Father from the beginning took on our human condition, sin, in order to lead us back to his place at the right hand of thte Father. This is the nature of sacrifice. The suffering of the Lamb is the suffering of sinners turning back, dying to sin, and returning to the Father. This is the nature of the Son, the eternal Son, always one with with Father; and oneness with the Father is our nature as well as God intended it. Therefore, the obedience of the Son undoes the consequences of the disobedience in the human condition.
In the climax of his life Jesus Christ bore the sin of the world, experienced the seperation, the loneliness, and agony of sin becoming sin on the cross. Yet, under this weight of this human disfunction, he remains one with the Father. In his humanity, he turns us back to the Father. He does this for us. He obeys the father and brings us back together before the Father. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The work of Jesus Christ was always and still is a sacrifee that reunites us with God. This should leave us stunned in silence and awe before Communion in the Eucharist where the sacrifice continues to draw us from sin into the mercy and grace, peace and joy of union with God in sacrament. The words of the Bapatist will soon be spoken again: Behold the Lamb of God; and then, surprised once again by mercy and love, we shall be counted among the blessed as we are called to the supper of the Lamb.