Sunday, January 19, 2014

2 Epiphany

January 19, 2014

John 1.29-42

+ I realized something the other day. I have a reputation. I have being someone who, when I start something, I am committed to it. For better…or, sigh, for worse.

If you don’t want something done, don’t ask me to do it. And if I’m committed to something, I am committed.

Well, to prove that point, if to no one else but myself and God, in a few weeks, on February 6 to be specific, I will be observing a one-year anniversary.  It’s not one that’s probably important to anyone else, but to me. On February 6th, I will be observing my one year anniversary of being a vegetarian.  If you can believe it.

I was, for the better the better of last year what is known as a lacto-ovo vegetarian,
meaning I didn’t meat, but I did eat milk and eggs.

There was a problem with that, however. Ever since I was about 21 years old, I knew I was lactose-intolerant.  A situation I ignored for the better part of these twenty years.  Ignored to my own detriment. Well, going lacto-ovo vegetarian only put everything into perspective for me.

So, I’ve actually even taken it all a step further. Six weeks ago, I went vegan. Vegan meaning, I am not just not eating meat. It means, no dairy, no eggs either.

Or to put in the words of the character Todd from one of my guilty pleasures, the film Scott Pilgrim Versus the World:

“I partake of neither the meat, nor the breast milk nor the ovum of any creature with a face.”

Despite my dairy intolerance, I can tell you, being vegetarian was fairly easy. Being vegan—well, not so easy. In fact it was daunting. It was just so…hardcore. It was like joining the Marines or the Trappists or something.

But it’s been very good for me.  My health has blossomed in ways I never even expected.  And the longer I’ve been on it, the easier it’s been.  Well, except for the fact that people I used to dine with have stopped asking me over for meals.  And I get lots of weird looks for restaurant servers when I order things like cheese-less pizza.

Of course, along with being vegan, one realizes that there is a health issue on side of it, and there is a moral issue on the other. One of the best side effects is my new appreciation of animals. Now that I’m not eating them or things that come from them, I’ve just been more aware of them and appreciative of them and I enjoy them more than ever have.

And for someone reason, this past week, as I was meditating on our Gospel reading for today, the whole image of Jesus as the Lamb of God really hit home to me in a new way.

In today’s Gospel reading we find John the Baptist calling out not once but twice, identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God. Now, I know, you’re thinking: “Geeze Louise! Now that he’s gone vegan, he’s getting all soft on us. Now we’re getting a sermon about sweet little lambs.”  Ahhh, not so.  Sweet and gentle is not what John saw when he observed Jesus at the Lamb of God.

For John, what he observed when he looked at Jesus and saw the Lamb of God walking past, was truly a  thing that would make most vegans cringe: he saw that sacrifice that was seen in the Temple in Jerusalem. There, the lamb was sacrificed—and quite violently sacrificed—as a sin offering for the people.  And before John, prophet that he was, walked One who was one day going to be the sacrifice as well.  He saw before him not Jesus the man, but the Lamb, broken and bleeding.

In our images of the Lamb of God, we don’t have just a fluffy little lamb.  In our images of the Lamb, if you look at them closely, we see the Lamb pierced.  We see blood pouring from the side of the Lamb.  We see a sacrificed Lamb.

In our Sunday Mass, we have been singing the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—after I have broken the bread.  I am so happy that we do.  This “fraction anthem” as we call it, carries such meaning.

In it we sing, essentially,

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy,

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Then you see me hold up the chalice and that broken bread and you hear me say,

“This is the Lamb of God. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we who are called to this supper.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at this altar during that anthem and looked down at the broken bread on that paten and looked into that cup and had a moment of spiritual clarity. So many times I have looked at the broken bread and the cup and thought, this is Jesus.  This is the Lamb of God.

For me, that moment of spiritual clarity is very much like the moment John recognizes Jesus as the Lamb.  For me, it might as well be the Baptist’s voice in my ear, announcing to me that this is the One. And it should be for all of us.

But more than just some mystical experience is this concept of the Lamb being broken.  Why do we break the bread at the Eucharist?  Why do I, when I hold up that broken bread with the chalice, and say, “This is the Lamb. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world…”?

Yes, we do it to symbolize the broken body of the Lamb.  The Lamb was broken.  The Lamb was sacrificed.  And it is importance to recognize that.

But it symbolizes something even more practical.  We break bread, so we can share it.  We break this bread and then break it and then break it again until it becomes small pieces that we must share with one another. And not just here. It also means we take what we have eaten here—this Lamb, this Jesus—and we share him with others, through our love, through our actions of love, through our acceptance of all people in love.

This Lamb that we know and recognize also is broken so we can share him with others.  It is not enough that we simply recognize the Lamb.  We must recognize the Lamb, broken for us, so that we can share the Lamb with others. And that is the purpose of our lives as Christians.

Yes, we gather here and are Christians.  But we are also gathered here so we can go out and share this Lamb that has been revealed to us.  And in sharing the Lamb, others too can share the Lamb.

So, let us listen to the voice of the Baptist proclaiming in our ears, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

Let us hear that voice when I hold up the Bread and the Chalice.  Let us hear that voice as we come forward to share that bread and drink from that chalice.

But let us continue to hear that voice too when we leave here.  Let us hear that voice proclaiming the Lamb of God as we share Christ with others, in all that we do as Christians, in the differences we make in this world around, in all the good we do and say in our lives. When we do heed that voice, we will find ourselves, as we heard in the beautiful collect from this morning, “illuminated by [God’s] Word and Sacraments” and being illuminated, we will “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

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