2nd Sunday after Epiphany, January 19, 2020
– John 1:29-42
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
The concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes way the sins of the world arises from the sacrificial or pascal lamb of the first Jewish Passover Feast, where the blood of an unblemished lamb was placed on the doorpost and lintel of the houses of enslaved Jews in Egypt as a sign for the angel of God to pass over their houses and kill the first born of the Egyptians as punishment for their enslavement of Jews.
Biblical scholars are unsure as to whether the last supper Jesus had before his crucifixion was a Passover Feast, but Christians have applied this concept of the sacrificial lamb of Passover to Christ, whose sacrifice and blood rescues us from enslavement to sin and death; “For God so loved the world,” says the Gospel of John, “that he gave his only Son, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (3:16).
This saying has prompted Christians to wonder: “Was it God’s will to hand Christ over to be lynched by a mob through the humiliating death on a cross? Was it the will of God to kill the innocent first born of Egyptians to save the people of Israel? Why must a harmless lamb be sacrificed for our sins; and like the sacrificial lamb, did Jesus have no choice in the matter?
My faith is based on the belief that God does not desire the death of anyone, especially the premature loss of innocent lives, for in our time of mourning such loss, it is God who mourns most of all. God, who grants us the freedom to choose or resist goodness, and who, in the person of Christ, lived among us, also offers each of us the means to become an embodiment of God’s goodness, love and compassion, so that we, like Christ, may resolve, “not my will, but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).
Yes, Jesus had a choice concerning the will of God, as does each of us. What is God’s will? God, according to Scripture, desires justice to “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24); that we should study war no more (Isaiah 2:4), and those who promote peace realize they are children of God (Matthew 5:9). God desires the day when there will no longer be weeping or cries of distress; when those who live to be a hundred shall be regarded as youth; when “the wolf and lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:19-20, 25); when the home of God will dwell among mortals, and mourning and crying and pain and death will be no more (Revelations 21:3-4); for “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). This is God’s will.
We hope and pray that we don’t have to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the realization of God’s will. But to prevent this from happening we need to notice that many Americans and much of the world are being scapegoated and victimized, as lambs to the slaughter, by the wrongdoings of others. And on this Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, Sociology Professor Jonathan Rieder, in his groundbreaking book about King called “Gospel of Freedom,” informs us that King, in the last year of his life, lamented over the direction America had taken, “descending into the opposite of the beloved community that he struggled for.”
White supremacist terrorism had spread across the northern states, prompted partly by the presidential candidacy of Alabama’s then segregationist governor, George Wallace. And President Johnson, on whom he once relied to implement a more racially just American society, had abandoned this cause to escalate the war in Vietnam. Add to this the assassination of Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, Malcolm X, and the constant threats to his life and his despair, a few months before his death, finally reached the boiling point where he cried out to his closest friends, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
But, of course, he continued, even to the point of death on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, resolving in his own heart to be the sacrificial lamb not for his will, but that God’s will be done.
Every Christian must bear the weight of the cross, so that it’s not too heavy for any one of us. “Many hands make light work,” said British composer and playwright John Heywood. Yet countless lives are being scapegoated and crushed under the heavy yoke of corrupt and evil leaders posing as innocent lambs. As Christians we must expose them for who they really are and confess before God our sins which, in some measure, support them. And then we must take up the cross of Christ trusting that only together our yoke is easy and our burden light.
Children of God, look to each other, see the face of Christ, and behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.