Epiphany Sunday Year A Sunday Week 3 Year A

Sunday Week 2 Year A

Print Version January 17th, 1999

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s struck me this week as I’ve thought about this phrase that I really haven’t thought much about it before: just taken it for granted as another strange thing in John’s gospel—which is full of strange things. It’s also been easy to overlook because I’ve heard that phrase at every mass—so many times that I’ve given up wondering about it.
So what’s going on? And is there any connection between these two things: John the Baptist pointing out Jesus as he passes by and the priest at mass holding up the consecrated bread and wine, body and blood?
Just using those same words forges a link over 2000 years of history. John the Baptist has his epiphany and we are expected to have ours. But why those words? Why the Lamb of God?
This puzzle, which happens near the beginning of John’s gospel, has a partner towards the end. Another puzzle. The other gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell how Jesus gathered his disciples together for the Last Supper, and make that last meal a Passover meal. They eat the lamb and the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs and re-tell the Passover story. How God had sent Moses to lead the Israelite people out of slavery and death in Egypt. How the people had gathered and celebrated their first Passover, the door of their dwellings marked with the blood of the lamb they were eating, so that when the angel of death passed through the land that night to slay the first-born of man and beast only those marked with lamb’s blood would be passed over, ignored, kept safe. And so it was. But as Jesus remembers that event with his disciples, he gives it a twist. He remakes the memory. He consecrates his own body and blood as Passover food. So that just as the Israelite people came to know their God in the event of Passover, so we come to know our God in the new Passover meal which we celebrate every Sunday at this table.
At least that’s how Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story. St. Paul too. But John in his gospel tells it differently. He does show Jesus gathering his disciples for a last meal. Tells us about the washing of the feet. But there’s no first Eucharist only a lot of talk. And if you read the small print you discover this meal is happens a day early. This isn’t the night of Passover at all but the day before. Why does John go out of his way to tell it differently, especially, when everyone already knows the other story?
Because John wants to go farther than the other gospel writers would dare go. What happens to Jesus in John’s gospel, when Passover does come, the day after he eats the meal and is arrested and tried? What happens is that he is crucified. It is Passover day and just as the lambs in the Temple are being slaughtered for those Passover meals, Jesus is being slaughtered. “Behold the lamb of God,” says John. And just as that first lamb’s blood marked the Israelites to identify them and make their covenant with God, so the blood of Jesus marks us, makes us his people, bound to God by the blood of a new covenant.
Jesus is our Passover. That is what we are saying before communion when we agree that “this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is as if we are marking our own foreheads with lamb’s blood. And then two things happen. We are marked out for salvation and no angel of death can have us. But we are also marked out unmistakably as one people. That mark has it’s price. The first Passover people, the Jews, have found their mark a hard burden to carry, often because of the persecution of Christian people like us. We, the children of the second Passover, shouldn’t expect that our mark will be any easier to wear. It marks us as friends of an executed criminal. It marks us as co-conspirators in a plot to change the world. It marks us as suspicious and dangerous people.
Are we ready for that? Today?

Entry Filed under: Berkeley,Homilies


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