[Here is parts of the Easter 3 Homily, mixed with notes for study on the meaning of “Lamb of God” for us today.]
I am told that on a little church-chapel in Germany stands a stone lamb which has an interesting history: When some workmen were building the roof over it, one workman fell to the ground. His companions hastened down expecting to see him killed. But he was unhurt. A lamb was grazing below when he fell on it, crushing the lamb. The surviving worker was so grateful that he made an image of the lamb in stone and placed it on the church building as a memorial. The lamb saved him from the fall.
We can spiritually relate to this, can’t we? For all eternity we will remember Jesus as the Lamb of God who died for us. He has kept us from death, taking it upon Himself for us. He wants to bear upon Himself our sins, as He so planned (see Isa.53:4-7,10), so as to give us the freedom to live on unto eternal life!
The Lamb of God is a title used of the Savior in post-Resurrection references a whole lot. It is more than any other title of Jesus given in Revelation, as you heard one example of it today in Mass. It is one of 28 times that “Lamb of God” is mentioned in that last book of the Bible.
JESUS IS THE LAMB THAT SAVES.
As I looked at the gospel of today, I note that it is the one of St. John and his time of pointing out to Peter and the others that he recognizes Jesus on the seashore. They all then are led to Jesus. In my homily, likewise, for our Easter reflection, I direct you to St. John and his words from Revelation, which points out to us, how Jesus needs high recognition as the Lamb of God. We need to best understand Him that way. After all, our Resurrection parish uses the Lamb in triumph logo in our print and media communications. Or, as St. John the Baptist put it of Jesus: “Look (to Him)! (He is) The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!” Jn1.29
We indeed address our Lord, God’s Son, in the manner of this great title, which is bestowed of Him due to His sacrificial love for us. We recall it in our Holy Mass, as we join in to what they are praying and singing in Glory, in Heaven. Did you hear St. John mention in Revelation 5 today of how the Lamb is to be adored both in the heavens and on the earth simultaneously? So, our prayers at Mass link to the High Liturgy going on in Glory. In the apocalyptic visions, the beloved apostle and revelator says:
“I, John, beheld many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders… countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” Then …every creature in heaven and earth cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The four living creatures answered, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Heaven adores the Lamb right now, and we on earth look to match it, in our own limited way, but God lets His Spirit come down to our liturgy, even to communicate Christ Jesus among us, as He gives us Himself as Lamb of God to our altar and to be celebrated in Sacrament. This is our very special Catholic practice, which differs us from so many other Christians, who don’t celebrate the Real Presence of The Lamb. On this matter, I urge you to read the book “The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth” by author Scott Hahn for a whole description of that great Catholic reality and its immense meaning:
Joining in the Lamb is a saving and rising up power action available to us uniquely via Holy Mass. It is a very Easter or Resurrection thing to do, as our own parish motto can be: “Follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” (Rev.14:14)
As you realize, we proclaim The Lamb Jesus in our liturgy over and over. Think of some of the Lamb prayers we use regularly…
LORD GOD, LAMB OF GOD, SON OF THE FATHER… (Gloria)
LAMB OF GOD YOU TAKE AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD, HAVE MERCY ON US, HAVE MERCY ON US, GRANT US PEACE. (After the Peace Exchange and at the fraction rite)
BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD… BLESSED ARE THOSE CALLED TO THE SUPPER OF THE LAMB. (Communion prayer)
In this extended homily reflection, let us review the message of Revelation 5, of which the Church proclaimed part of on this 3rd Easter Sunday. Here’s a whole section of it to ponder, with my commentary in italic:
(In my visions,) I (John) saw a scroll in the right hand of The One who sat on the throne.
This scroll would be a list of the redeemed, the elect for Heaven… and Who could both represent Heaven (God) and earth (man) for this saving matter? It comes from “the right hand”, referring to the Blessed Son of the Trinity, the Right Hand.
It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to examine it. I shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it.
There was a time, before the Lamb came to us, when we were left in utter need to be saved. Who could unseal the matter? A mighty angel wonders about this grave matter for those separated from God (we in fallen humanity). Interestingly, the unsealing (or opening) of the Tomb of Christ will break open the answer! God will handle the matter: In the LORD Jesus’ Resurrection .
One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep.
John was weeping at the fact of humanity’s lost state and dire need of saving, in this moment. Yet the elder of Heaven says to him that an Event has come, stating:
The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”
Jesus is also referred to as Lion, as The Deliverer, come in power, which will be more revealed to us in the Second Coming of Christ. It ushers in the Lion and the Lamb time of Peace, as Isaiah 11 says will come, even as a little Child shall bring it about—that Child is the Christ Child. Yet before the Lion Christ roars, He intercedes and works for us as Lamb.
Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.
The Lamb is Alive, but He bears the marks of being slain before. This refers to God’s Son in Heaven bearing the marks of being the Crucified Christ. Heaven sees what the Lord Jesus has done, and it is awe-inspiring of His Love. In our last two Easter Sunday gospels, you heard of how Jesus came in Resurrection appearances, as showing His followers His precious wounds, offered in suffering, of His saving love for us.
He had seven horns and seven eyes; these are the [seven] spirits of God sent out into the whole world. He came and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. The Spirit is upon Jesus the Blessed Son, and He is Risen as Savior of the World, and He wins souls by His action. Note how the prayers of the holy ones are rising up in His triumph, of the songs and incense, too.
They sang a new hymn:
The Lord Jesus has done something new, requiring a new song, of which they sing these words
“Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation (as Lamb of God) . You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.”I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number,and they cried out in a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” This has described Heaven’s High Liturgy, as now newly led by the Lamb of God. This liturgy has its special connection to earth, as it then says…
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”
In today’s Mass, then, in the Word, is proclaimed the Great Reality of the Lamb of God, Who leads an eternal liturgy, with connection to what He began on the earth, such as at the Last Supper, as becoming the Paschal Lamb, the New Passover, in His Body and Blood. Rev.5 has St. John say of his vision: And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb.
I call each of us now to try to picture in our minds and hearts of this vision of The Lamb. In the Easter-New Passover image of the Church, as told in Scripture, Jesus is the Lamb Who is Alive Again. The marks of the crucifixion are on Him, but He is Risen and Triumphant; still not wanting us to forget that wondrous sacrifice of love He offers. We heard how Jesus came to His apostles and disciples showing His precious wounds, while also showing He was risen from the dead. The God of Sacrifice is the Lamb Jesus. Mt 1:21 says: And she (Mary) will bring forth a Son, and He shall be given the name Jesus, for, as it means, He will save His people from their sins. Jesus does save. He lives up to The Name. Lk 1:31-33 foretells He will be triumphant, too. And behold… a Son…in the Name of Jesus…will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Promise, even involving a lamb or ram of sacrifice way back to Old Testament Genesis times. God’s Son existed then, too, of course. He met Abraham, long ago, in Jerusalem, the city of peace, and He was pleased with his obedient trust in God, even to the point of Abraham’s considering of giving his son Isaac in sacrifice, on the mount. Abraham went up to offer Isaac in sacrifice. Isaac asked his father the question, Where is the lamb? (Genesis. 22:7) Abraham replied that God would provide a lamb. And God did. Jesus is that Lamb of answer. In the moment, God helped them receive a ram, caught in the thicket for them, but ultimately, God was pleased there and then with Abraham’s faith—and it changed the course of salvation history. God would match and greatly out-do Abraham’s offering, by providing a Son, The Son, on high—as to be our offering. God came as the Lamb, Jesus, God Incarnate. Before that coming of Christ, Israel was instructed to offer lamb’s blood in atoning work. One great day would come, and God would offer His own Lamb of perfect atonement; Christ Jesus, at the same City of Peace.
Leading towards that Perfect Lamb, there was an important Exodus event to remember here. In a dramatic moment in Moses’ time, at the final sign of plagues to lead to the Jews’ freedom, the blood of the lamb would prove significant, as not just a mere symbol to God, but of one of holy power. The Lord would use the blood for the Jews to be spared, as in the bypassing (or passing over) death, as Israel was redeemed from bondage by the blood of the lamb at the first Passover. In Moses’ time, they took the hyssop spring and dipped it in lamb’s blood, in their Egyptian homes, and put it over the doorposts, and the angel of death passed by or passed over the Jews, as a protection blood, and a sign. And it became the sign to deliver the Jews out of slavery and start the exodus.
All of these actions in the Hebrew covenant story would have their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. His Blood is real, no mere symbol in the Church, it is a Sacred Sign for deliverance, and it helps us to overcome death. By receiving His Body and Blood, reverently, in faith and sacrament, He applies His own self (own body/blood) to us, His own flesh, as He says, he/she who eats this and drinks this shall never die. (John 6.) That’s our flashback to the Upper Room, and Jesus’ institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and our valuing Jesus ever since as “Lamb of God.”
As a homily (and lengthy reflection piece) application, I’d like for you to consider the image of the Lamb of God here at the parish altar, for every Mass you attend from now on, particularly in this Easter time. Behold Him that way. Actually, we always ask you to: “(e.g. the priest’s words of invitation) “Behold the Lamb of God… blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” These are the words said emphatically right before Holy Eucharist is received.
I also refer to you a painting to go look at online, to see how the 15th century master Jan van Eyck painted the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, with gushing saving blood, a detail in one of the 12 Ghent Altarpiece panels, which are in St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. This artist knew this deep Lamb of God theology I am espousing here to you. He drew it well.
(It is the bottom middle panel, as shown in this illustration._
The Lamb of God is a favored Easter image, in other sorts, like the image of the Lamb walking with the flag of triumph. I like this one, especially, as it shows a Living Lamb, standing on the altar, with saints and angels and ourselves gathered around in adoration and honor and glory and thanksgiving.
Perhaps we should add a painting reproduction of Jan van Eyck’s work to our parish church entrance resurrection images.
Our Resurrection victory is all about Jesus. Humankind needed a Redeemer to buy back both the kingdom of this world and the people in it. He, The Lamb, is become the offering, Jesus Christ is the Person, the Redeemer.
I’d like to return my thoughts to the Exodus story again, and God asking the Jews, via Moses, on that last night in Egypt, to kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorframes of their houses as protection from the angel who would pass through Egypt that night, taking the firstborn of the Egyptians. (Ex 12:3-14) They used a branch of hyssop shrub to smear its blood on the doorframes of their houses (vs.21-23). What does this have to do with Jesus? A whole lot, it turns out. The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover Lamb. As in Exodus 1, a lamb’s blood saves the people, so in Exodus 2, the blood of Jesus saves the people, as He is the New Passover Lamb, to save us from our sins. Even while lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem, for Passover that 33 a.d. year, on its Friday vigil, Thursday night, Jesus was instituting the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Upper Room (the First Mass). Then, while Jesus was dying on the Cross, on Friday, John 19:29 says: “A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.” (John 19:29). This recalls the hyssop being used by the Hebrews to smear the blood of the Passover lambs on the doorframes. (Ex 12:21-23). Jesus’ Body and Blood will now be the new covenant sign and sacrament. He will put that sign into the Church’s life. She will be the vehicle of a new exodus/deliverance, to Glory.
St. Peter writes of this gift, to the believers, saying: “You are redeemed with… the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” Alleluia! 1 Peter 1:18-19
Jesus is the Lamb Who saves us. The Chinese Catholics says that the Chinese character for righteousness is interesting, in this connection. It is composed of two separate characters – one standing for a lamb, the other for a person. When lamb is placed directly above the “me,” the person, a new character – righteousness is formed. Meaning, in a Catholic way, Righteousness is someone under the Lamb. He is clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Neat!
Rev. 5: 6-7: And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
This was the great hope, as one reads Revelation, or Apocalypse, that Someone could take up the scroll, or hold a list of the redeemed in His Hand. It is Jesus, The Lamb!
My brothers and sisters, there are so many Lamb of God references in the Bible. They complement the other verses of Jesus’ Rising. The New Testament claims that, through His death (or sacrifice), and into His rising up, Christ conquered Satan. Hebrews 1:3 says: Christ, now being the brightness of the Father God’s glory and the express image of His person, does uphold all things by the Word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Indeed: The Lamb is Worthy! He purged our sins, alright!! He also applies Himself to us as a Gift for salvation.
By receiving the Lamb of God in your person, you make it much possible and probable to be united to the Lamb forever. We do so in Sacrament. In that, one needs a worthy and respectful reception of the Lamb, so that one day we can join the chorus in heaven, and say: Worthy is the Lamb, to receive honor and glory and power and might, in alleluia chorus forever!
What we are doing here at Mass is joining the Lamb of God, on this side, to be ready to celebrate the Lamb Jesus on the other side, in Glory. Let’s worship Him again, in Real Presence, here in our liturgy, one more time, as best we can. I hope, too, that you use the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Mercy prayers and Lamb of God prayers of the sacred liturgy, to come before the Lord in all manner of reverence. Amen.