Second Sunday after Epiphany
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – You may have noticed that part of the Gospel reading today sounded awfully familiar. We have been using it as the fraction anthem, the prayer that comes after the priest breaks the consecrated bread. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.
One of the key theological points of the Gospel of John that we read from today is that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Paschal Lamb. John’s Gospel puts Jesus’ crucifixion on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, when the lambs would have been killed for the Passover. He is the Lamb, he is the Passover. (You may recall for a while we were using a different fraction anthem, “Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us / Therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleluia”). Christ is the Passover, the Paschal Lamb.
But we need to remember that, per the Book of Exodus, the Lamb for the Passover isn’t sacrificed for sins. The Passover Lamb isn’t about covering the sins of the Israelites. In the Book of Exodus, the Passover lamb is slaughtered and its blood is put on the doorposts so that Death will pass those homes over and only afflict the Egyptians, who have held the Israelites in slavery for generations. The Passover Lamb is a meal shared between Israelites, and if someone is too poor or small to afford one, they join with their neighbors to share. They roast the lamb, they eat it with unleavened bread, and they put the blood on doorposts and lintel (kind of like the chalk blessing if you took home a blessing kit last week, but not exactly the same).
The Passover Lamb does two important things in Exodus: it brings the Israelites together, and it sets them free. The Passover Lamb builds community, and it liberates from oppression.
So, then, why is John the Baptist saying, “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”?
In the Gospel of John, sin is not like a speeding ticket, a misdemeanor, or a felony. That’s the model we tend to use for sin. You did something wrong, it goes on your criminal record in God’s books, and Jesus gets your record expunged.
In the Gospel of John, sin is enslavement. It’s a cosmic condition. The sins you and I each do are part of it, but there’s something bigger at play. Sin is an oppressive reality that we’re all stuck in. We need to be set free from it. We need to be liberated from sin, we need a Passover miracle. We need the Lamb of God to get the ball rolling on our freedom, our Exodus from enslavement to sin and to move on toward life and freedom in God.
Don’t forget the other thing that the Passover Lamb does in the Book of Exodus: it brings the Israelites together. The Passover Lamb doesn’t just set you and me free as individuals – it brings people together and sets them free together as a community. If we want freedom for ourselves, then we should also want freedom for others, for the whole world. We should want the power of the Lamb of God to set the whole world free; as we pray, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world” – not just my sin, not just the sum total of all of our sins, but the sin of the whole world, the whole cosmos, the whole universe. We can’t be selfish with salvation. Salvation sets us free, together.
And back to the prayer that we have been saying after I break the bread: the third petition goes, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us your peace.” Grant us your peace. In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers his peace to his disciples only when they are gathered. He offers them his peace at the Last Supper before his crucifixion, he gives them his peace when they are gathered together after the resurrection. Peace is shared in community. The Lamb of God calls us together as community. Thus, it is very fitting that we say that prayer before we begin to share in communion. We don’t “Take” communion as if we were in line at the snack bar, but as a sharing in Christ, a sharing in community, a sharing in Christ’s peace, together.
The Lamb of God liberates us from the oppression of sin, and the Lamb of God liberates us together. The world is longing to hear this message – the world wants to be set free from all these things that bind us, and the world is waiting to be brought together in the love and peace of Christ.
Where are you going to bring the power of the Lamb in the week ahead? You’re not on your own – you have your fellow faithful alongside you in spirit, in communion. Where can you set people free from what oppresses them? A word of love to set free the spirit oppressed by despair – the work of love to feed the body oppressed by loneliness? As you feast at the supper of the Lamb, remember that this power goes with you – to set you free, to set others free, to bring together in the peace of Christ.
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Amen.