Sermon at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2020
Look, here is the Lamb of God!
The Venerable David Stanton Sub-Dean, Canon Treasurer, and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 19th January 2020 at 11.15 AM
In todays Gospel reading there is much talk about Jesus as the Lamb of God. As he walked by John exclaimed: ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ (John 1.36).
Many years ago I had first hand experience in caring for sheep and lambs.
I vividly remember being out in the Devon fields on bitterly cold January evenings, walking around by torchlight, rolling up sleeves for the raw earthly work of delivering lambs.
This occasionally involved the exhausting work of carrying a yew and her young ones back across the fields to shelter.
Sometimes things did not end well. It could involve delivering a still born lamb with the mother constantly licking the lifeless creature attempting to re-susurrate it.
An animal’s instinct of caring for it’s young is phenomenal, but occasionally the tentative life of the lamb had to be sacrificed for the health of the mother.
One particular memory of a lamb with two heads comes to mind and drastic action that had to be taken by the Vet.
Of course, the trauma of birth is not the end of the story for young lambs. Early on, those who do survive are still particularly vulnerable and defenceless when left alone, being attacked by a predator or getting stuck somewhere and dying.
So why has a lamb become the ultimate symbol of Christ?
Well, firstly, there is good biblical precedence and pedigree. In the Book of Genesis God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, and on the way to the altar Abraham said to Isaac, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering’ (Genesis 22:8). Abraham ended up sacrificing a ram.
This passage introduced the notion of the lamb provided by God as the perfect sacrificial offering.
The life-saving significance of the sacrificial lamb was underlined in the Book of Exodus, when God instructed the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb at the Passover, and to repeat that sacrifice as a yearly tradition.
Also the prophet Isaiah declared that God’s servant would be, ‘oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).
All these incidents and references prepared God’s people for the coming of the true Lamb.
So why does it matter that Jesus is the Lamb of God?
Today, most people would be in uproar if there was a story on the news about an animal sacrifice. (If fact some 30 years ago I have a hazy memory of someone actually sacrificing a sheep in the leafy suburbs of Wimbledon).
While it may be looked down upon today, the reasoning behind it is pretty straightforward.
That is because, no matter what culture we come from, we understand the concept of payment and restitution. If we want something, it must be paid for.
Likewise, if we break something or do something wrong, we should pay for it in some way with something precious to us, be it money or time.
The fact that Jesus is the lamb of God, that he gave himself up for us in one ultimate sacrifice, lies at the very heart of our Christian faith.
Prior to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, our standing with God depended on our completion of a sacrifice ourselves.
We could not approach God unless we had done this other thing first. Now through Jesus, we have direct access to the Father.
The moment we recognize our sin, we can immediately enter into prayer and we can communicate with God. We Can Draw Near to God because of the Blood of the Lamb.
‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
This declaration made by John the Baptist, which we so often hear before receiving Holy Communion, is a succinct summary of our Lord’s divine mission.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of our Lord’s Baptism, the inauguration of his mission as suffering servant and so it marked the beginning of his public life, which of course ended with his sacrificial death upon the cross.
Having celebrated the Feast of Christmas and the Epiphany, we now begin once again to commemorate afresh the mysteries of our Lord’s earthly life: that of preparing for the annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Every new year we strive afresh to deepen our faith - to know and love God the Father more, to grow in our likeness to Christ our Saviour, and to become one with him in his saving work.
We also know that salvation is something spiritually intimate; and so in turn our response to this gift is very personal.
The Father calls each one of us and each in our own way responds with the words of Samuel: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
In the silence of prayer, God reveals himself to us; and in the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ the Father is made known.
Recall the words of our Lord to the Apostle Philip: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
During the celebration of this sacred liturgy it is Christ our Saviour that we endeavour to hear and to see; to encounter, to love, and to serve.
If we truly believe the truth of these words and we are prepared to act on them, in time, our lives will become a unified whole, and we will engage the world and everything and everyone in it with Eucharistic tenderness.
The tenderness of the Saviour who becomes for us the Lamb of Sacrifice and the Bread of Life, necessarily becomes the pattern with which we engage the world and those in it who do not yet know Christ.
When we unite ourselves sacramentally to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we become one with him in the work of salvation.
Like him we endeavour to alleviate the burden of sin that weighs heavily on humanity.
This has always been the Christian way, for we understand that human nature though fallen and wounded, can be restored and healed.
The image of the shepherd caring for poorly and sickly lambs is powerful and profound.
For God, our discipleship is the greatest force in the world, because everything we do as our Lord’s disciples is supported by his powerful grace.
Having been fed with holy food from this Holy Eucharist, let go forth from this holy place, as others before us have done, to continue Christ’s saving work.