This is my homily from this past week and I publish it here today specifically because I was asked by a parishoner – “Where can I get a copy?”
Okay – point taken Holy Spirit – I will be more judicious in posting these in the future. (Yeah, I know I’ve said it before but as we Catholics know, it’s always a good day to repent.)
Comment is always inivited.
HOMILY – 2nd Sunday ORDINARY TIME – CYCLE “A” 2011 – “Behold The Lamb Of God”
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Those are words we say every single mass just before we receive communion – and it is this scripture passage – from John’s Gospel – from where those words come.
The words are spoken by John the Baptist – but they are very much the words of St John the Evangelist – in fact, the image of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” is pretty much attributed exclusively to him.
The term appears all throughout the Fourth Gospel as well as the Book of Revelation, which St. John also wrote. For example:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”
I’ve often thought that this term – so common in both our worship and indeed even in our very language – needs a little more fleshing out, a little more time spent with it – so it seems circumstances today have afforded me the opportunity.
You know the term “The Lamb” conjures up all sorts of meanings and images in our minds.
Indeed St John’s creation and use of it was – if you’ll pardon the pun – quite inspired.
The Image of “Lamb” is one of meekness and innocence – a lamb is by nature gentle, mild and very much the essence of helplessness in all things – qualities we would all ascribe to Jesus at one time or another.
In the Book Of Exodus, by God’s direct instructions the Israelites were to prepare an unblemished lamb for their very first Passover meal– something they still do even today in fact.
The Lamb in the Old Testament was far more than just a meal though – it was indeed a SACRIFICE ordered by God himself as a means of saving his people – that was its sole purpose actually.
The people ate the Lamb’s flesh for nourishment the night before their flight from Egypt – but its blood was smeared on the doorposts and lentils where they were during the stifling Night of Terror – when the first born of all of Egypt were killed with the Angel of Death Passing Over the houses of the Israelites which were marked with the Lamb’s Blood.
It was the Blood of the Sacrificed Lamb which saved God’s people that night.
Sacrifice here we must remember has a deeper meaning than simply giving someone or something over to death – the death from SACRIFICE has a good and holy purpose – a purpose for saving others – otherwise any such death would be tragic, if not downright meaningless in fact.
As it was with the Old Testament – so it is with the new – the Lamb of God is sacrificed and it is HIS BLOOD which saves God’s People once more!
Did you know that when we all say the Lamb of God before Communion, we are ALL participating in THAT VERY MOMENT – IN THE ONE AND ONLY SACRIFICE OF JESUS ON CALVARY?
The “Lamb of God” acclamation is said at the VERY EXACT MOMENT of the sacrifice itself – it’s called the Fraction Rite and it’s the precise action of the BREAKING of the Eucharistic BREAD – and it corresponds EXACTLY to the BREAKING of Christ’s body – his DEATH – upon the Cross!
It is that exact moment when his willingly giving up his life – “It is finished” as John’s Passion Narrative tells us.
If you watch both Father John and Father Jim closely at that moment when we sing the Lamb of God – you will notice that they time their actual breaking of the bread with the actual singing of those very words – Lamb of God.
And you’ll ALSO notice that Deacon Darryl or I NEVER assist in the actual BREAKING of the Eucharist – we may help divide the broken pieces – such a division for distribution is an act of SERVICE, something which we Deacons are specifically ordained to do – but the BREAKING of the BREAD ITSELF is an act of SACRIFICE – and it’s something ONLY a PRIEST can do – for ONLY THEY are the sacrificial Christ himself at the Altar!
The sacrifice you see – MUST be conducted at the Mass just as it was on Calvary – WILLINGLY offered by Christ himself.
And ONLY the Lamb of God – in this case those who are in his Person at the Altar – ONLY THEY can offer that sacrifice – for indeed it is by definition a SACRIFICE of SELF!
Christ OFFERED HIMSELF – and the priest who stands for him at the Altar does so as well.
What we celebrate is that ONE SAME SACRIFICE on Calvary but we do so in an unbloody manner – we do not “remember” or “reenact” or “symbolize” that original sacrifice – the sacrifice was once and for only once!
We PARTICIPARE in that One and Only – through time and space – at Mass WE are all standing on that windswept hill at the foot of the Cross on Calvary!
We are there – as Christ – THE LAMB OF GOD – willingly SACRIFICES himself – for us.
You know many people today are not comfortable with this notion of sacrifice.
Many have profound issues with any emphasis AT ALL on this aspect of the Mass – they prefer to dwell on the fact that the community is present together, all sharing a meal and “being one” with each other and such similar things – all of which are, of course, TRUE by the way.
But . . . I think those who place so much emphasis on the COMMUNITY aspect of the Eucharist sometimes forget the real point of what actually happens here at the altar – and on Calvary.
And its phrases like “Lamb of God” which can bring us all back there.
John the Baptist obviously knew what was to come for Jesus by his calling Jesus the Lamb of God – and indeed St John the Evangelist himself was a witness at the foot of the Cross – and they both knew that like the Passover Lamb – it is Christ’s blood which saves:
“When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may (come to) believe.”
The same blood which will be in the chalice in a few moments.
The same broken body which will be given to each of us.
Father will take the ONE Body and break it into MANY pieces – indeed as many pieces as there are people in this Assembly – and for our parts in the very ACT of consuming that broken Body – we will REUNITE it within ourselves and thereby REUNITE EACH OTHER with Christ himself once more.
ONE – will become MANY – and then become ONE again.
The Pascal LAMB – the Lamb of Sacrifice – the Lamb of God.
The very act of GOD sacrificing himself for OUR SAKE should be a very HUMBLING REALIZATION on our parts, you know.
Many of us likely KNOW this fact – or at least we have probably heard it articulated from time to time.
But do we REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT HAPPENED?
Well hopefully we have a little bit better idea NOW about it than when I started – but while I may have given you a whole lot more regarding the WHAT – I haven’t really covered AT ALL the BIGGER QUESTION of WHY.
WHY DID HE DO IT?
He is GOS – he lacks nothing and needs nothing by definition – why would he do such a thing – especially in such a bloody, horrid way?
Well actually – it is St. John the Evangelist once more where we find the answer – and I’ll bet you all know the Chapter and Verse for this one too!
It’s probably about the only Chapter and Verse that we Catholics can articulate on command, even though we don’t always remember the quote, we likely remember the numbers.
It’s John 3:16 – words which we’ve seen on graffiti and on billboards and that someone once told me was written on a wall in the Saigon airport by some of the very last American troops leaving there forever those many, many years ago:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Kind of humbling, don’t you think?
Words for us to take with us this week and meditate upon more deeply I should think.
But NOW – I think it’s time now for us to journey once more to Calvary – and for us to participate again in that one and only sacrifice of the Lamb – and for us to remember once again both WHAT he did – as well as WHY.