Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi… Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Latin or in English, even the words are exquisite. And the concept they capture is far, far beyond that. It is the very kernel of Christianity. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. As human beings, we are wired from head to toe with self-preservation instincts. Yet here is a man willing to throw all that away. He is without sin, without guilt, yet he is willing to lay down his life for our sins, for our guilt.
Why? In the bloom of health, in the prime of life, why embrace an agonizing death? There’s a one-word answer. But it is powerful enough to explain the entire life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The one-word is: LOVE. Jesus is human, but more than human. He is the love of God made flesh. He was, is and will be God. He was before all creation. He is in us and around us today. He will call us to eternal life tomorrow.
In this gospel, John captures Christ’s role as Messiah; not as a long-awaited warrior king, but as a pure sacrificial victim. And to drive home that point, twice he calls Jesus the Lamb of God. This is no throw-away line. This is the sole message that the ministry of John was meant to proclaim. Significantly, the disciples then call Jesus: Rabbi… teacher. The concepts are deliberately linked together. The sacrifice of Jesus does not exist in a vacuum. It is the ultimate teachable moment. Jesus is teaching us a completely new way of life; forsaking a life based on self-preservation, embracing a life based on self-sacrifice.
Christ is a teacher, not an exhibitionist. Calvary is a lesson. In fact our re-education is integral to our redemption. Jesus tells us to take up our cross, to follow him, to love like him. We are more than the ace predators at the top of the food chain. We are God’s beloved, made in his image and likeness. Our driving force is not self-preservation, enrichment or aggrandizement. It is the love of God embodied in Christ and showered upon us. We call it grace. It shapes how we see the world and how we make our way in it.
We have so much to learn from the Rabbi, from the Lamb. We learn to forgive. Without forgiving ourselves, without forgiving others, we make a mockery of the sacrifice of the Lamb. We learn to give. The heart of sacrifice is that we choose to give things, to do without things and to suffer things that, apart from love, we would never choose to give, never do without, never suffer. Ultimately, the Lamb teaches us how to live. John does not say that Jesus is sort of like the Lamb of God. He is the Lamb of God. His mission defines his essence. We cannot be sort of like Christians. We must be Christians. The mission defines our essence… our lives, full-time, all the time. Until God gathers us home, we live in the sacrifice of the Lamb. And in it we are saved… we are forgiven… we are loved. Thank you, Jesus.