“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
One of the problems we have today in understanding the whole language around sheep and shepherds is we are not an agricultural society anymore.
Most of us have no first hand knowledge of sheep or shepherds other than from the annual Christmas pageant when our children or grandchildren dress up as cute cuddly animals who cavort about the church making us smile or reach for our camera phone to grab a quick picture.
The other problem is that for much of the 19th Century popular art, hymnody and poetry tended to portray Jesus as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”
A docile sheep-like man who didn’t try to rock the boat but encouraged little children to be obedient and compliant.
But that is not our current understanding of this strong prophetic man is it?
In the gospel reading this morning Jesus walks by and John, his cousin and a popular preacher and prophet in his own right, announces to his followers, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!“
The language he uses “lamb” and “sins” meant a whole lot more to them in those days than it does to us today.
When Jesus appeared on the scene in what we now refer to as “the first century,” Jewish religious tradition was based on two things that didn’t always work well together.
The older tradition placed the Temple at the centre, as that of primary importance.
This tradition was rooted in the story of Abraham, who attempted to offer his only son Isaac as a human sacrifice.
Another story that I find hard to read especially as a father and a grandfather.
In this story God’s messenger instructs Abraham, a split second before he kills his son, to make a substitution and kill a conveniently available animal, a goat, for his son.
Whew! Close call for poor little Isaac!”
The story has many levels of meaning, of course, but its most important meaning is that it signifies a step in religious evolution.
A step from barbarism, from a people who make child sacrifices to an angry god, to a people who substitute an animal instead of a human to appease and mollify the almighty.
While it’s still a blood sacrifice it at least spares the lives of your infant sons and daughters.
God would accept an animal, one in perfect condition, as a blood offering by which the person, family, tribe or nation were “atoned”, and reconciled with their Creator.
Around this system grew the Tabernacle and then the Temple worship tradition , supervised by a hereditary priesthood descended from Moses’ brother-in-law Aaron.
That tradition was centred in Jerusalem, the city of David, the holy city.
The second vital part of Jewish religious tradition in the days of Jesus was the synagogue system.
The Old Testament tells us the story of Israel, after the period of the Davidic dynasty, torn apart, situated between aggressive world powers, being conquered again and again.
The conquering powers sought to cower the Jewish people by destroying their visible connection with God.
They tore down the temple, took the people into exile and slavery in distant lands.
Those Jewish people, taken hostage “by the waters of Babylon” as the familiar psalm (137) laments, not only wept; they gathered together to hear their Scriptures read by authorized teachers.
As Jesus appears on the scene Jewish religious practice was a blend of Temple worship, with its substitutionary sacrifices, situated in Jerusalem, and synagogue practice, hearing and receiving the Scriptures and applying them to daily life.
The city folks could go to the Temple but most rural folks attended the synagogue.
So when those standing next to John hear him say “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” they hear….”Here is the person who unifies your faith.
Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, “who will die that you might be forgiven,” but he is also the Rabbi, the authorized teacher, in whom God’s law is renewed and applied to your daily life and practice.
He’s two in one…..lamb and shepherd.
In the church of today the whole idea of Atonement, of a blood sacrifice to sponge away our sins is largely out of favour.
The old prayer book (BCP) was all about it.
The one and only eucharistic prayer is all about that.
The sole purpose of Jesus’ life according to that prayer is to be, “…a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…”
Today we would much rather focus on a Jesus who comes to teach and to reveal himself and the scriptures as in the old synagogue tradition.
While there are still some references to Atonement in our BAS eucharistic practices we are much more focused on the person of Jesus rather than on the meaning of his violent death.
In our Eucharistic prayers he is sent “…to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to [God], the God and Father of all.
In the Eucharist, each week, we re-member.
We bring to life in the here and now, the sacrifice, once offered for the sins of the whole world.
But more importantly we eat and drink Jesus.
We take a holy, spiritual pause in which to ask God to fill us with Jesus.
We ingest, the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God.
We not only outwardly try to emulate him but we take him inside our bodies to strengthen and sustain us in our daily walk.
When we celebrate together we combine two ancient traditions each week…the temple and the synagogue.
We start with the latter, by hearing Jesus the Rabbi, the authorized teacher, expounding to us God’s law, the words Jews heard at the time of Jesus and the words Christians have heard since the time of Jesus.
We corporately confess our misdeeds, our missteps and our flirtations with evil and pray that God will take away those sins and our desire to sin.
We hear the gracious words of forgiveness and are reminded that no works of our own, either by the slaughtering of an animal or by keeping long lists of rules will take them away.
Only God’s grace, his free gift, will do that.
And then we kneel or stand at God’s altar to receive food for our journey.
Assurance of God’s presence and love in our lives.
(Gesture towards altar)
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!