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2nd Weekend After Epiphany (A/RCL) Jan. 14 & 15: "The Lamb and the Lambs of God"

Second Weekend After Epiphany (A/RCL): “The Lamb and the Lambs of God”

John 1:29-42

January 14-15, 2017

Holy Trinity Lutheran, Manasquan, NJ

            Here’s a worship quiz question: what happens after we pray the Lord’s Prayer and before you come forward to receive Holy Communion?

Yes!   We sing the Lamb of God, also called by its Latin name, the Agnus Dei.

(If you know anyone named Agnes, please let her know her name means lamb.)  When I did grad work at Boston College, we used to worship in a little chapel with this sentence engraved over the door lintel: 

Ecce Agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

I’m sure that members of our adult choir who have sung classical settings of the liturgy know those words.  They’ve been set to music by the greatest composers and are a beloved part of the sacred library of beautiful works written to glorify God.

            Like much of our liturgy, the words of the Lamb of God come directly from Scripture.  We heard them at the beginning of today’s Gospel:

[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  (John 1:29)

The next day, in case they missed the announcement the first time, he repeats it to a couple of his disciples as they see Jesus pass by:

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  (John 1:36)

            There’s no other mention of Jesus as the Lamb of God anyplace else in the New Testament other than the Book of Revelation (where it’s used 29 times).  But it’s one of the titles for our Lord that we hold closest to our hearts, isn’t it?  William Barclay says it’s:

… one of the most precious… [summing] up the love, the sacrifice, the suffering and the triumph of Christ.1

Twila Paris apparently agrees.  She wrote our hymn of the day, called The Lamb of God.  Here’s the refrain we’ll sing:

O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God,

I love the holy Lamb of God.

Oh, wash me in your precious blood,

my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

At the top of the Celebrate insert is a drawing of the Lamb of God.  Here’s another on my Lenten stole.  So – why did John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God?  Why do we call Jesus the Lamb of God??

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            In this Fourth Gospel Jesus dies at noon on Good Friday as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple. 

·          Passover: God’s delivery of God’s people from slavery to freedom, then and now.  The blood of the Passover lamb was put on the doorposts of the Israelites so the Angel of Death would pass over.  Jesus’ death on the cross brings forgiveness and saves us from the eternal death our sins would cause.

·          Lambs were also one of the animals sacrificed in the Temple as a sin offering, morning and night.

·          Christians have long connected the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with Christ.  On Good Friday we hear this verse (Isaiah 53:7):

o     He opened not his mouth, like a sheep that is led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers.

Twila Paris’ hymn speaks truth to our soul, afflicting us as well as comforting us.  Like the Passion readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, we are reminded that not only the Jewish leaders and the Romans are responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion; we share the guilt.

Your gift of love we crucified.

We laughed and scorned him as he died.

The humble King we named a fraud

and sacrificed the Lamb of God.

·          In Jewish writings between the Old and New Testaments a lamb was the symbol of the One who would do battle with and destroy evil at the end of time.  We find that imagery in the Book of Revelation:

o     “…for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Rev. 7:17)

            That’s where we’re reminded that the Lamb of God is also the Good Shepherd. 

I was so lost, I should have died,

but you have brought me to your side

to be led by your staff and rod

and to be called a lamb of God.

            This is the little lamb of God that our Women of the ELCA brought back for me from a national convention.  It sits on the arm of the couch in my study.  It reminds me, and I hope whoever sees it, that we are all lambs of God. 

            Anyone who’s been in Ireland has probably been startled to see Irish sheep.  The ones I saw were not snowy white.  Their rumps were spray-painted in bold colors: pink, blue, green.  It was like seeing graffiti on a beautiful building.  Then I learned: that’s how the owners of the sheep tell who belongs to whom. 

            After Brody Robert is baptized tomorrow/today, I will trace a cross in fragrant oil on his forehead and say, “Brody Robert, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  When we are baptized into the Lord’s flock there’s no spray-painting of rumps, but there is a holy marking with the cross.  It sets us apart as belonging to the Good Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God,

I love the holy Lamb of God.

Oh, wash me in your precious blood,

my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Amen.

1William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (rev. ed.,Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 82.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham