1.19.14 Lamb of God
2 Epiphany A January 19, 2014
In the name of the Son of God, who is the Lamb of God, and who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.
I have no idea who St. Vitale was, but his basilica is something to behold. It is a huge Byzantine church, a big octagonal solid, sitting smack in the middle of the ancient Roman city of Ravenna, Italy. That’s situated near the NE part of Italy—on the Adriatic Coast. The basilica was finished by the year 550 AD; and anything that big and that closely associated with the Roman empire in its heyday has got to house a bunch of good art. And the Basilica of San Vitale does not disappoint.
It’s covered inside with magnificent mosaics of archetypal Old Testament and New Testament stories and symbols. And right over the chancel, high above the floor, is the central, circular mosaic figure of the Lamb of God.
It’s a strong-looking lamb, with its long white tail (they didn’t cut sheep’s tails in those days). The lamb has a golden halo around its head. It’s standing on a dark blue mosaic field decorated with white stars. It’s a cosmic lamb. And around it is a thick, circular band of fruits and leaves. It’s gorgeous. The eternal Lamb of God.
Our gospel today gives us the ONLY 2 references to the “Lamb of God” in all the gospels. The “Lamb of God” is one of the terms that John the Baptist uses to refer to Jesus. So what does it mean?
The sources I consulted were in agreement that it may have several meanings. One that comes to mind is the Paschal Lamb, slaughtered and eaten each year at Passover to remind people of the favor of God shown them in Egypt and in the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land. By remembering the blood of lambs that deflected the Angel of Death over the households of the Hebrews in Egypt and by eating the Passover Lamb, people are still reminded to this day of God’s eternal loving-kindness—and God’s eternal shepherding of his people Israel. So Jesus is the Lamb of God, who reminds us of God’s care and salvation for us all. The Israelites ate the paschal lamb. And we still feast upon his body, don’t we?
Next, the Lamb of God may evoke a sacrificial lamb, slaughtered as a propitiation on behalf of the people—an offering to take away sin. This is what we mean when we refer to Jesus as the Paschal Lamb. Each year just before Pascha, which is another term for Easter, he is sacrificed, he dies, only to come to life again. And in his death we believe he defeats death on behalf of all of us. He takes away our sin, subsumes it into himself, and then defeats the punishment we deserve. This is classic Christian theology.
And the third image that comes to mind of the Lamb of God is THIS one, high on the ceiling of the basilica in Ravenna. It is the strong lamb, standing in eternal splendor, the one come to judge the quick and the dead, the one come to rule over God’s kingdom for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, the Lamb of God is only one of the titles for Jesus that we see in this passage from the first chapter of John’s gospel, isn’t it? The Baptist also calls him the “Son of God,” after he saw him graced by the Holy Spirit at his baptism just the day before. That made it clear that he was God’s son, God’s agent, sent to do God’s will here among us.
And Jesus’ newfound followers, Andrew and someone who is not named, call him “Rabbi.”
Now, our gospel goes on to tell us that once Jesus sensed he was being followed, he turned around to his followers and asked them, “What are you looking for?” That is one great question. It’s one that’s still so timely—for each one of us.
What are we looking for? Why are we here? What do we yearn for? What do we wish we had?
I asked our Wednesday Eucharist attendees this question—What are you looking for? And here are some of the answers we heard—
I’m looking for . . . some chocolate, an end to my depression, some comfort, peace in my life, a good life for my children, healing for those I love. I’m looking for meaning—so I can be more at peace with what’s happening around me.
Would anyone like to shout out any other answers to the question, “What are you looking for?”
It’s good to take stock of where we are in our lives and where we are trying to go. What are we looking for?
And of course the ultimate answers to that question—looking for peace, looking for comfort, looking for healing, looking for meaning, looking for eternal existence: these can only be answered by our lives with Christ and in Christ. He is the ultimate meaning-maker and the end to all yearning. How do we find him? By coming to him. By seeing. “Come and see,” he said in today’s reading. That’s the way.
Now, there’s one other movement in this gospel that I’d like to point out. It’s the way that John the Baptist and then Andrew report to other people about what they’ve seen in Jesus.
Note that they’re telling people about him very matter-of-factly. They’re telling what they’ve seen and heard. They aren’t backing any of it up with fancy theology; they’re just saying to whoever is listening that this fellow is the Lamb of God. This fellow is the Son of God. He is a great rabbi.
They saw what they saw and they told other people what they saw. And they brought people over to meet this guy—Andrew brought his brother Peter. And we all know who Peter grew to be.
Bringing people to Christ. That’s what we call “evangelism.”
Now, I know that there’s been a lot more evangelism in this congregation than we want to take credit for. I think of the story of the former rector here in the 80’s, Randall Giddings, who ran into a mother of a Preschooler in the middle of Caraluzzi’s and told her she should come to church on Sundays. That woman is still here, a very active and precious member.
I think of the young man who brought his girlfriend. And she’s still here with us. I think of kids who brought their parents. I think of the quiet but profound witness of the community one All Saints’ Day, when someone driving past to get to the Congregational Church actually stopped because of the procession through the graveyard. That person has become a key lay minister in this parish.
These are all instances of intentional and unintentional evangelism. Evangelism is a way to help people find the answer to that question, “What are you looking for?”
Let’s see—how many people are here today in the Episcopal Church because one day—maybe years and years ago-- they were invited to come and see?
* * *
We pass through the parish, learning and growing, and we go out into the school, the workplace, the shopping mall, the soccer field, and we are to carry our faith with us. And we come back here again to top-up our spiritual batteries. And this goes on, over and over. And in the course of our journeys we encounter people who are looking for something they may not even be able to name. What are they looking for?
It’s our job to tell them to “come and see.”
* * *
Behold, the Lamb of God! That’s just not for 2000 years ago. It’s not just for enshrining on the ceiling of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s for right now.
Behold the Lamb of God! And help other people come and see him, too.