Message for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (1/15/2023)
Of the four titles conferred on Jesus in our Gospel from John today, “Lamb of God” is the most evocative. We’re quite familiar with that term, as we are with the others – “Rabbi,” “Messiah,” “Son of God.” Indeed, many Sundays we sing John the Baptizer’s memorable phrase as part of an introductory liturgy to Holy Communion, the weekly occasion when the Lord offers nothing less than his own life – given and poured out for you – as a sign of his mercy and peace:
But, despite its familiarity, the term “Lamb of God” is startling. Upon consideration, what kind of animal might we expect to be associated with the power of God? In order to contend with the eagle that symbolizes the Roman Empire, for instance, wouldn’t it make sense for the God of Israel to become incarnate in one who is also strong and ferocious, a predator in his own right? This is the Messiah, the Son of God! Shouldn’t his arrival on the scene inspire admiration, even fear?
Consider how C.S. Lewis portrays the Christ figure in his famous Chronicles of Narnia: “Is he – quite safe?” one of the visiting children inquires about Aslan, to which the residents of Narnia respond, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” “He’s wild, you know. Not a tame lion.”
In fact, there’s biblical precedent for portraying Jesus as a lion. In the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos – not the John who perceives the identity of Jesus in our Gospel today, and not the John who writes that story down – narrates a vision of the end of time, when God’s purposes will all be fulfilled. “Do not weep,” one of the elders of heaven encourages the visionary. “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered….” There he is, the Lion, right there at the culmination of our sacred story, except that at the elder’s introduction a predator does not appear, but rather the prey: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered….”
As it turns out, the Lion of Judah is the Lamb of God, first recognized by John the Baptizer at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, slain yet standing in the fullness of time. In fact, the Greek word for lamb, arnion, is a diminutive, so it might be more precisely translated “little lamb,” or, as Pastor Daniel Erlander calls it, “Fluffy.” Can you imagine? Do not weep. See, the Lion of Judah has conquered. Behold Fluffy!
What a surprising turn! In the end, God’s ways are not our ways. God’s power is made perfect in weakness, to quote the Apostle Paul, and evil is overcome not by overwhelming force, but by suffering love. Of course, that has always been the message of the cross and resurrection, even as that message has been drowned out over the centuries by the drumbeat of retaliatory violence.
Nevertheless, the faithful have occasionally been persuaded by the power of the Lamb, and their witness has been unforgettable. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and work we celebrate tomorrow, is a latter-day example. Here was a saint who declined to meet hate with hate, violence with violence, not for lack of courage, but on account of his commitment to the power of the Lamb: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” he preached. “By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.”
Predictably, Dr. King met the same end as do many of the prophets of God, as does Jesus himself. Suffering is a distinct risk for any would-be disciple, as Jesus himself makes clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
And, that risk raises the perennial question, why on Earth would anyone follow in the footsteps of the Lamb in the first place? What does a crucified Rabbi have to offer apart from the way that leads to the cross?
The response of his first followers gives us a clue. Once they’ve encountered Jesus, they can’t help but draw near to him, and tell their friends and loved ones, “We have found the Messiah.” It seems that he is mysteriously compelling.
But, he also asks a compelling question, a question for the ages: “What are you looking for?” Those first disciples don’t quite know, still Jesus’ question stirs in them enough curiosity, enough hope to follow him wherever the way leads. “Where are you staying?” they ask in return. That is to say, Where do you reside? Where can we find God’s grace and truth? And, Jesus’ reply is an invitation: “Come and see.”
Friends, that invitation is for you, too. Come and see the Lamb of God at the heart of our sacred story, the one who defies the ways of the world in favor of another way, the way of sacrificial love and mercy and peace. Come and see the one who dwells among the outcast, not turning away from the despised for the sake of righteousness, but joining them for the sake of solidarity. Come and see the feast of grace that he prepares for you, bread to strengthen and wine to gladden the human heart. Come and see where he leads you from here, to bear witness to the boundless love of God at every point on your journey.
 Revelation 5:5-6.
 Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, 111.
 2 Corinthians 12:9.
 “Loving your enemies,” Strength to Love, 54.
 Matthew 16:24-25.
 Matthew 25:35-36.
 Psalm 104:14-15.
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