Sermon for Sunday 15 January 2023
Epiphany 2 Year A
Each and every person sitting here will in the next 24 hours experience a psychotic episode. You will see objects and people that are not really there. You will become delusional, believing things that cannot be true. You will experience strong swings of emotion – terror and fear as well as delight and joy. You will also undergo a confusing amnesia – not being able to remember substantial parts of what you have just been through.
It’s call dreaming. Every one of us will see weird and fantastic things tonight whilst we’re asleep that are not really there. We will remember very little of it all by the morning.
It is interesting just how we imagine psychosis to be a rare thing on the edges of human existence. It is something each of us experiences every single night. A series of delusions and visions which if they happened during our waking hours would lead to us needing medical help, but which when restricted to our sleeping self, are seen as perfectly normal.
The boundary between seeing what is actually there and seeing metaphorically or imaginatively is far more hazy than we like to imagine. Indeed, our dreams, fantasies and imaginings can sometimes be closer to reality and truth than the cold clinical information provided by physical sight on its own.
John the Baptist claims he sees something very specific today. He says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” And yet he points not to a lamb, but to a human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever information human vision is able to provide about this man, it is John’s deeper vision that tells us the theological reality of who this person is.
Yes, you may only see an ordinary looking bloke in front of you. But beneath that external, lies a hidden reality very different. This man will take away the sins of the world.
But if Jesus is the Lamb of God, what exactly does that mean? What significance did lambs have in the Jewish imagination of the First Century?
Opinion is divided amongst scholars. One school of thought is that the Lamb John refers to is the warrior, victor Lamb we see in various apocalyptic writings such as the Book of Revelation. If Jesus is this sort of Lamb, then he is a representation of God’s triumph over his enemies and all that is opposed to his Kingdom.
Another theory wonders whether the Lamb of God is actually the Suffering Servant figure of the Prophet Isaiah. He is referred to as a lamb like figure. The prophet tells us, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Could it be that Jesus, like Isaiah’s Servant figure is shown as someone who suffers for the sake of Israel.
A third idea is that this title “Lamb of God” could be referring to the paschal lamb. This was the lamb slaughtered at the feast of Passover. It was killed in the temple and taken home to be eaten by those keeping the feast. In the story of exodus, it is the blood of this lamb that is used to mark the doorposts of those who are to be spared from the last plague of Egypt, the death of the first born. Is Jesus the Lamb, like those smeared doorposts, the sign of our deliverance?
The honest answer is I can’t see why all these theological strands can’t be present. For Jesus to be the Lamb of God he is Triumphant Victor, Suffering Servant, and Paschal Victim all at once.
That might seem like theology that’s moderately interesting but a bit abstracted. What difference does that all make to our Christian discipleship? Well, there’s one place each day where all those ideas come together in the practical hear and now.
For those words, “Behold the Lamb of God” are uttered several times a day in this church week in week out. They are uttered at the thing we are celebrating now – the Mass.
At the invitation to communion the priest invites us to see the Lamb of God, just as John did. But rather than pointing to a person, the priest holds up a tiny fragment of bread. God transforms our vision so that we can see the reality that lies beneath that outward sign.
For that bread is in fact Christ present with us. Not an abstract idea, or a theological assertion, but the one who personally takes away our sins and reconciles us with God through his Cross. That is the moment when those words of John become personally relevant for you and me: the Suffering Servant, the Triumphant Lamb, the Paschal Victim who dies no more and gives himself to us so that we can have eternal life with him.
Fr Peter Anthony