Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rediscovering Lamb of God Christology

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29

Last year, we as a family were at a village called Seatoller in Lake District, and as we were waiting for the bus, we were admiring the flock of sheep on the lovely green pastures in the field. It was an sight to watch. We then saw two farmers rushing and catching hold of a sheep, and to our surprise we saw the sheep delivering a lamb, to which the farmers were assisting her. It was so precious for us to see a lamb born out of a sheep, so cute and so wonderful. “A lamb is born” exclaimed my sons and from then on they went on telling so many people “that they saw a lamb being born.” The memory is so fresh on our mind and we cherish it to see a lamb being born.

Today, in the gospel reading from John chapter 1, we see another kind of introduction to a lamb, for John testifies to his disciples on seeing Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” which he mentions twice in the text 29v and 36v. Time again this metaphor ‘lamb of God’ has been used to describe the death of Jesus on the cross, for from his blood our sins are cleansed. There have been several images drawn on the lamb of God Christology, for most of the pictures depict a lamb along with Jesus to show on the one hand his meekness and to describe that he is the good shepherd to the flock of sheep. To many in our post-modern contexts, the symbol ‘Lamb of God’ has not been appealing thinking it is too na├»ve and too old a metaphor assuming it as something irrelevant to the existential needs of our times.  Allow me this morning to bring in three pointers in rediscovering the significance of the ‘lamb of God’ Christology, for this metaphor is the first of the introductions of Jesus Christ to the Johannine community.

The introduction of title ‘Lamb of God’ to Jesus needs to be understood as a witness of both John the Baptist who utters this title to his disciples and as a testimony of John the Gospel writer who introduces this title to his readers of the early Church. This therefore, helps us to reflect this morning on three things from the text,

1.      What is the importance of this title to the immediate context, the disciples of John the Baptist?
2.      What is the importance of this title to the larger context, the disciples of the early Church, to whom John the Gospel writer writes this gospel to, the Johannine community?
3.      What is the importance of this title to the public context, the disciples of Christ today in 21st century?
By this way we can rediscover the importance of this Christological title, which has an immense potential and relevance for our times today.

1.      ‘Lamb of God’ – Disciples of John the Baptist:
John the Baptist who has been living in wilderness, and who has come to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah has been waiting for the right time and opportunity to introduce Messiah to the world, as he has experienced. John the Baptist in the text confesses that he himself did not know him twice, only to say there has been a lots of debate and discussion of who the messiah is. But eventually in that unknowing and partial knowing we see the divine intervention in his life, for he was compelled by the Spirit to hear the voice coming from heavens, and to acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, in whom God is well pleased. In that context, the title ‘lamb of God’ for Jesus is a recognition of the messianic significance for their context. So it is a messianic title for Jesus.

Secondly we recognise that John the Baptist, having spent most of his life in wilderness, eating locusts and honey should have encountered several strong animals in his time, and leaving aside of them why did he chose ‘lamb of God’ to introduce Jesus. He could have called Jesus, ‘ lion of God’ or ‘an elephant of God’ or ‘a rhino of God’ or to stretch it to our times, ‘a dinosaur of God’ or a ‘tyrannosaurus of God’ which are really big, strong, ferocious and grand. On the contrary he picked up a ‘lamb’ for Jesus Christ, which was an animal most of his community people have seen and known of. This is to show forth to his disciples that this title is a ‘title from the margins’, a local well known animal of their times, for the revolution of establishing the messiahship in bringing down the Empire comes from a local, known, meek, which is the ‘lamb of God.’ The princes and the emperors tames animals like lions and played with them to symbolize their power and might. Here is a ‘lamb of God’ who comes as powerless, situates among the powerless and yet will bring in a revolution called reign of God here on earth.

On hearing this introduction of Jesus by John the Baptist, two of his disciples became the followers of the lamb of God. The messianic title and the marginal title impressed them about Jesus and therefore went on to receive the hospitality of Jesus as he said ‘come and see.’ Little did John the Baptist knew that this title ‘lamb of God’ will make him lose two of his disciples from his team, yet as a team leader John the Baptist would have been happy that two his team mates have joined a better club, the club of the lamb of God. Therefore for John the Baptist and his disciples, this title lamb of God was invitational into the Kingdom of God and was inspirational to disciple Jesus Christ from then on.

2.      Lamb of God – Disciples of the Early Church in Johannine Community:
This title ‘lamb of God’ becomes important in John’s gospel for he unlike other synoptic gospel writers uses lots of symbols and icons to communicate his post-Hellenistic early Christians. John the gospel writer has been a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he therefore on knowing the person of work of Christ introduces to his early Church that in Jesus Christ we have the paschal mystery happening, for he was slaughtered unjustly by the unjust Empire for the redemption of the entire creation. So the title ‘lamb of God’ brings that paschal lamb to the memory of the early Church in Jesus Christ. So it was very important for them to cling on to this eternal sacrifice made on the Cross by Christ.

Secondly, this lamb of God is the one who takes away the sins of the world, not with a winnowing fork or with fire, but with the sacrifice. Some draw parallels to the ‘suffering servant’ in Isaiah 53 to show that Jesus as the lamb of God is the suffering servant who died a vicarious suffering on the Cross. So this title remind to the early church the suffering servant image in the lamb of God.

Thirdly, this lamb of God is an apocalyptic title for the early Church, for in Revelation 5:6, where the lamb stands on the throne contrasting the five magnificent creatures. The early church believed in the elevation of the lamb of God to be at the throne of God, for he shall judge both the living and the dead. So this title reminds the early church of the throne of grace, for which they have all been waiting to be at. On the throne are not the magnificent animals, but the meek and lowly, the animal from the margins to be seated, which will come as an unexpected and surprising to most disciples.

3.      Lamb of God – Disciples in the Public Context today
Finally having discussed the importance of the title ‘lamb of God’ both for the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of John the Evangelist, what is the importance and relevance of this title for us as disciples of Christ in the context of post-secular, post-truth public contexts today? Does this title mean anything to us, or is it of no worth for us to think of a lamb except for a kebab or roast or a curry?

Firstly, the title ‘lamb of God’ is important for us today because God in Jesus Christ as the lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world, both personal and corporate sins. We are called to recognise that it is God who has come as a lamb, as an ordinary, as the one among the locals, as the one from margins, as the one unexpected to bring in liberation to all creatures of the creation. The challenge therefore for us is to look for the ordinary, unexpected, margins, to the locals out of whom liberation comes. Don’t expect the divine among the magnificent and majestic creatures, look, explore and situate the divine among the margins.

Secondly, the lamb of God implies a sacrificial hospitality, who is willing to be broken for the cause of accepting many into the reign of God. The challenge for u as churches is to therefore be and become sites of radical hospitality for others. After all what does the lamb live for, in most ways for the sake of others. The calling for us to willing to be broken for the sake of others, for Christ was broken for others and in that brokenness, he identified with the broken and crucified communities. Let people on looking to our deeds call us, ‘behold here is the church which is like lamb’, ‘behold here is a Christian who is like a lamb.’ Let our sacrificial radical hospitality speak for us.

Thirdly, in the vision of Isaiah 11: 6, we see that
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.

Initially, the lamb might be frightened to live with a wolf, the kid might be afraid to lie down with a leopard, the calf to be the lion, but in the peace reign of God the lamb will initiate to live with the wolf as much as the wolf will live with the lamb, for it is the little child who will lead of them together. The calling for us is to engage in ways and means to bring in reconciliation between the strong and the weak, to bring in repentance on the strong and to bring in confidence to the weak in making this vision a reality. The lamb reminds us of a revolution, to which we are called to partake and participate in.

To that end, may the Spirit guide and lead us to rediscover lamb of God Christology as a relevant Christology for our times, and challenges us to channel grace and love to several people around us as a lamb of God. Amen.

Rajbharat Patta, 
15th January 2017. 
Sermon Preached @St. Peter’s Church & Chaplaincy

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