January 12, 2020
+ Recently, I was reading about an incredible piece of art that was recently cleaned and restored.
I am talking about the Ghent altarpiece.
This bit of art is one you no doubt know.
If you saw it you would say, “Oh, yes, I know that.”
In it, we find a panel called “The Mystical Adoration of the Lamb” in which Jesus as the Lamb of God is standing on an altar, surrounded by adoring angels and saints.
This altarpiece can be found in St. Bravo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium.
It was painted in 1420s, early 1430s and was believed to have been painted by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck.
It’s a stunning piece of art.
But, if you are familiar with it, you may want to check out what was found as they were cleaning and restoring it.
It seems that, at some point, the face of the Lamb was altered.
At some point, the face was painted to look like an actual lamb.
But the original painting showed a very humanized face to the Lamb.
And this was only revealed after the restoration.
The human face on the Lamb is actually quite startling.
It appears to stare out at the observer, to stare them down essentially.
Now some describe this face as “cartoonish.”
But I found the revealed face of the Lamb to be sobering and compelling.
And it hit home to me the fact that the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God is essential in many ways to us.
All of this, of course, hits home to me this week because, of course, our Gospel reading for today deals with Christ as the Lamb of God.
And for some 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 came 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.
For us, it’s a very nice image.
A nice fluffy, sweet-natured lamb.
But…is that the right image we have of Jesus?
If God chose to be incarnate in the flesh, would God want to be looked upon as a sweet, fluffy lamb?
No, not all.
And that’s not what John is getting at when we calls out the way he does.
Sweet and gentle is not what John saw when he observed Jesus as 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 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.
He saw before him not Jesus the man, but the sacrificial Lamb, broken and bleeding.
To be fair, in our own images of the Lamb of God, we don’t have just a fluffy little lamb.
The image we have on our altar here is not a sweet, fluffy lamb.
Look at it.
It is a defiant lamb.
It is a Lamb that stares right at us and confronts us.
And, if you look closely, you will see the Lamb pierced.
We see blood pouring from the side of the Lamb.
We see a sacrificed Lamb.
And that look of strength and defiance can also be seen directed at the one who has done the piercing.
I love this image on our altar, by the way.
We also find other references to the Lamb in our Mass
In our Sunday morning and Wednesday night Masses, we sing the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—after I have broken the bread.
I am so happy we do that.
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 on us
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.”
That shed blood.
That broken body.
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 announces 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 of God. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world…”?
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.
Trust me, we understand brokenness right now in our world, in our society, and, no doubt, many of us know it in our lives.
Brokenness is part of this imperfect world in which we live.
And it is hard to bear.
When we gaze upon that broken bread, when we gaze upon that broken lamb, we gaze upon our own brokenness as well.
But we gaze upon a God who understands our brokenness.
A God who understands these fractures and these pains each us bear within us and in this world in which we live.
But it also symbolizes something even more practical.
We break bread, so we can share it.
We don’t get the option of just sitting around, wallowing in our brokenness.
We don’t get to just close up and rock back and forth in pain over the unfairness of this world and society and our lives.
We are called to go out and do something about 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.
By sharing our God who knows brokenness, by sharing of our broken selves, we do something meaningful.
We undo our brokenness.
We become whole by sharing our brokenness.
It means we take what we have eaten here—this Lamb, this Jesus, this God who knew pain and suffering and death—and we share this Jesus with others, through our love, through our actions of love, through our acceptance of all people in love.
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 be that voice when we leave here.
Let us proclaim 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 that 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.”