From the Very Rev. Kristi Maulden
Image of Jesus as the Lamb of God
This Sunday’s lectionary includes a passage from the Gospel of John. In it, John the Baptizer sees Jesus, points him out to his own disciples, and proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 He uses that phrase twice, both times announcing Jesus as this Lamb of God. That title is used only in this Gospel, but references are made to Jesus as the Paschal Lamb in Corinthians, and as the Lamb who sits upon the throne in Book of Revelation. Because it is not a universal or common phrase in Scripture, it requires some additional thought.
Within John’s Gospel, the idea of a sacrificial lamb meshes with his concept of the need for an agent of Christology. This concept involves someone called to be an agent of God in order to be given up or as a sacrifice for an eventual victory. We hear that when we sing or say the Agnus Dei on Sunday: O Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us and grant us peace. The victory, in this sense, is the conquering of sin and the establishment of peace with God. What is interesting in John’s Gospel is that Jesus is called the Lamb of God even before his death on a cross. That gives the sense that it was Jesus’ life lived in obedience to God that was even more important than the moment of his death. His whole existence was given over to reconciling humanity to God and this way of love. This sacrificial lamb then rises in victory over death on the day of resurrection.
The early church wrestled with this concept of Jesus as the Lamb as well. In 397 AD while preaching on this very text, Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote:
“Why a lamb in his passion? Because he underwent death without being guilty of any iniquity. Why a lion in his passion? Because in being slain, he slew death. Why a lamb in his resurrection? Because his innocence is everlasting. Why a lion in his resurrection? Because everlasting also is his might.”
It is paradoxical to think of Jesus both as a roaring, powerful lion and yet a gentle lamb. But there is something wonderful about those images. Jesus had the might of God behind him. He could have led an army and destroyed those in power. But his was not the way of the world. He emptied himself of the need to promote himself or assert his rule. Jesus showed us that the way to God was through the work of humility and service. That is the Lamb of God. And he shows us the heart of God. This is what is said about Jesus in Revelation 21:23: The city (of God) does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. We see God, because Jesus, the Lamb, lights the way.