(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
After weeks of preparing and celebrating the feast of Christmas, we returned to Ordinary Time. The church changes the colour back to green. However, in only a few short weeks we will enter another season of preparation and we look toward the feast of Easter. Always, Jesus' death and Resurrection is with us. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, though, Jesus' death and Resurrection is still in his future. He has just been baptized the day before by his cousin, John.
The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
What do the people think when they hear John the Baptist call Jesus the "Lamb of God"? We hear this phrase frequently, every time we go to Mass. But for the people listening to John the Baptist, it is not familiar. It is not a phrase found in Hebrew scripture.
However, the people might think of the Passover lambs. Each year, for thousands of years now, Jewish people celebrate the most holy and ancient of meals—the Passover. Hebrew scripture records the very first Passover meal celebrated in Egypt when the Jewish people are still slaves. God instructs every household to slaughter a lamb, eat the meat, and spread the blood on the doorway to their homes. That night the angel of death visits every home in Egypt taking the firstborn son, but passes over each home that has the blood of the lamb on the doorway. This finally convinces the Egyptian leader, Pharaoh, to let the Jewish people go free. Saved by the blood of the lambs, the Jewish people know that God is indeed their God and they are God's people. Each year Passover lambs are sacrificed and the Passover meal is celebrated as a memorial—a way for each Jewish person both to remember the first Passover and to participate in it. Remember and participate. Memorial is a way for them to enter more deeply into the covenant, more deeply into relationship with God.
John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. It calls to mind these animals designated by God to save people by their blood. Does Jesus save people by his blood? Absolutely.
At the Last Supper, he takes the bread and says, "This is my body." He takes the wine and says, "This is my blood."
Can we live without our blood? Of course not. Jesus gives his life.
He offers his life in the bread and in the wine, long before the soldiers arrive to take his life away. They cannot take away something he has already willingly given.
Jesus offers his life so completely as gift, as sacrifice, that he defeats death. He is emptied of life on that cross, but on the third day God fills him with eternal life. Life that will never end in death. And Jesus offers this life to us.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Like John the Baptist, the priest says this at Mass lifting up the broken bread and the chalice of wine for all to see. We remember the Last Supper, and we participate in it. We are given a meal to celebrate, a way to enter more deeply into covenant relationship with God.
John the Baptist says,
“I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
We see the bread and the wine and we know who this is.
Like John the Baptist, we too can testify.
Just before the bread is placed into our hands, the priest says, "The Body of Christ."
It is so.
We testify in a clear voice: