“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
What images does this familiar phrase evoke in our minds and hearts? Maybe we just feel some of the contained solemnity that is in the air around Holy Communion time. But, instead, we might just allow these words of John the Baptist to float by us without striking any chord of our heart. It might fall in the same category of our familiarity with the Crucifix: the horror, the tragic, excruciating death fading away due to extended or repeated exposure to our gaze.
But can we really afford to be desensitized by familiarity to the reality of the Lamb of God and the Cross?
It was quite different when these words were first spoken by John the Baptist. Three images must have rushed into the minds of those who heard him utter them.
The first image which flashed in their minds was the Paschal lamb at the time of the deliverance from Egypt. The blood of that innocent lamb smeared on the doorposts of each Hebrew home did spare them when the angel of death was sent to strike the firstborns of the Egyptians. It was called also “the Passover lamb” because, seeing marks of its innocent blood on the doorposts, the angel passed over without striking the Hebrew firstborns. The second image was the one of the yearling lambs offered at the Jerusalem Temple as morning and evening sacrifices. And the third image must have been the one about which we read at the Good Friday afternoon service.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7
The first consideration that jumps right out at us is that in all three instances, all the blood is poured out to the last drop. The second is about the enormity of the sins of the world that cannot be taken away by anything less than the very blood of God himself. The third is that this decision made by God the Father proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has indeed gone all the way in proving his love for us. Not even he, the Almighty, can top that! There is no turning back. The Blood cannot be pumped back into the lifeless body of Jesus on the cross. Hence, Almighty God cannot but continue to love us forever and ever.
Lastly, we remain helpless and powerless before the horrific tragedies that sin can and does unleash upon everyone, the guilty as well as the innocent. Despite all the advancements in technology, science, communication, healthcare, and emergency assistance we are still at the mercy of evil and the quirks of nature. We can be wiped out ever so easily, were it not for the love of our God.
John repeats those solemn words to us now because we, too, must know that the sins and evils of the world can be taken away only by the Blood of the Lamb. The lesson is as obvious as it is hard to accept: the way to success, to freedom, to progress, to happiness, to immortality is the bloody way of the cross. The more we are in tune with the necessity of the Blood of the Lamb, the more we would realize that quick fixes, easy solutions, paved downhill roads, magic pills, miracle cures are and will always be illusions. The more we appreciate the sacrifice of the Lamb of God the hollower politicians’ speeches, fast diets, sensational tabloid articles and promises too good to be true would sound.
Thus, the next time the priest holds the Sacred Host over the Chalice of the precious Blood and announces: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” we should shudder in humble gratitude that salvation has come to us at such a high price!
We should also grieve intensely on account of the ease with which we fall into sin time and time again. We should even feel thoroughly embarrassed admitting that we might have sought the easy way out of commitments and the demands of our state in life as well as that our loving is still so seldom accompanied by willingness to be sacrificed for those whom we claim to love.
Finally, we should beg the Lord God to make us walk down the path of docility and obedience strode by Jesus, Yahweh’s humble Servant (cf. Isaiah 49:3,5-6), even if that docility and obedience might call us to make the ultimate sacrifice to prove that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can love our neighbor to the very end as Jesus taught us and did.