Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Van Eyck brothers 1432, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…” John 1:29.
A question occurred to me preparing this Sunday’s reflection concerned John’s choice of the word “Lamb”. Why not “fawn” or “calf” or “foal” or some other word applied to the young of animals? If we started to use any of those terms today and apply it to Jesus, it would sound very strange as we are so used to “lamb”. But surely John’s followers, who heard his description of Jesus, a grown man, for the first time, might well have reacted in the same way: “lamb”? It must have been strange. Or perhaps not, considering the highly significant role that the figure of a lamb had played in Jewish history:
[God said to Moses] Tell Israel they shall take a lamb without blemish, a male one year old, kill the lamb and take some of the blood and put it on the the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat the flesh with unleavened bread…. when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will fall on you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12, abridged.
Following that night of the 10th plague, when the first-born of Egypt were slain, the Hebrew people were released from slavery and began their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. Hence the blood of the sacrificed lamb represented life (including consuming the lamb in haste at mealtime, strength to begin their journey) over death of the first-born, and freedom over slavery. Transferred to Jesus’ mission, it meant freedom over slavery to sin, eternal life and happiness, our Promised Land (with his body and blood at communion as an anticipation of the eternal banquet, and as food for the journey towards that time) as opposed to eternal hell and suffering. And that symbolism has remained with us down to the present: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world…” said prior to consuming that sacred Lamb in the form of consecrated bread and wine at Mass. That also helps us understand the painting above, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. A non-Christian would have a very hard time understanding what it was all about.
So, following on John’s recognition and identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God, it follows that Jesus is the sacrificial victim who will deliver us all from slavery and death. Jesus has the power to give us freedom and life, the essentials of a good and fulfilling life here on earth followed by the absolute freedom and life in heaven, always provided that that is what we truly want and are willing to do what is necessary to deserve them. Remember the ancient Jews had to believe in the power of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts to save them from death, and had to endure 40 years in the wilderness before arriving at the freedom of their Promised Land. Christians have to accept that the Lamb’s blood received in communion has the power to give us eternal life, and that our pilgrimage here on earth, obeying God’s will, anticipates the absolute freedom of eternity in God’s presence. If you read today’s first reading with that in mind, it becomes clear that we, as God’s children here on earth, are to be lights of life and freedom to all around us, that others too might enjoy and model their lives to God’s will in anticipation of such a wonderful consequence. The fact that if we do actually model our lives in such a way here and now, we have heaven here and now! Remember Jesus often said “Heaven is like…..” when he was teaching. Follow that teaching therefore, and we experience heaven in the here and now! In other words, we can experience profound happiness and satisfaction springing from obeying God’s will today. It may not be easy, it may incur suffering, but if God is with us and we with God, what can prevail against us?
Ancient design for the Christian cross: 𝚭ΩΗ (ZŌĒ -“zoey”- LIFE) and ΘΩΣ (PHŌS – LIGHT).
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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