By the Rev. Darren Miner
Echoes of the Epiphany resound in today’s Gospel reading. Last Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and we heard St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. As I stated last week, that account is the principal reading in the Eastern Church on the feast of the Epiphany, whereas in the Western Church the story of the Magi is proclaimed. Today we get a second echo of the Epiphany in John the Baptist’s account of Jesus’ baptism—or to be precise, in his remembrance of that recent event.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus sees the heavens open up and the Spirit descend like a dove. It isn’t absolutely clear if anyone else sees what Jesus sees, or hears what he hears. St. John’s Gospel answers that question. John the Baptist also saw the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. And for him this was the sign he had been waiting for that the One who was coming into the world had arrived.
The Baptist announces to all within hearing distance that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” One wonders exactly what he means by this curious expression. Elsewhere, Jesus is proclaimed as the great Shepherd of the sheep, a reference to his status as the Messiah. But here, he is not the shepherd, but the sheep, and a baby one at that! The most common interpretation of this metaphor is that John is equating Jesus with a paschal lamb, the animal that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten once a year in commemoration of the Exodus. The blood of a paschal lamb was a symbol of redemption. Recall that at the first Passover, the Israelites smeared their lintels with the blood of a lamb, so as to be spared from God’s wrathful visitation upon Egypt. While the killing of a paschal lamb was not originally a sacrifice, by Jesus’ day, when only the priests in the Temple were permitted to slaughter the lambs, the slaughter and communal sharing of a lamb was commonly thought of as a Temple sacrifice. We see this sacrificial understanding of the Passover when St. Paul writes, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” a phrase that should sound rather familiar.
But St. John the Baptist goes further when he states that this sacrificial lamb “takes away the sin of the world.” This is something completely new. In Judaism there was no sacrifice that took away the sin of the world. The closest parallel is the so-called scapegoat upon which the sins of Israel were placed once a year on the Day of Atonement.
As the Church Fathers noted long ago, there are eucharistic overtones to the Baptist’s paschal metaphor, overtones that elucidate its meaning for us today. For just as a paschal lamb was sacrificed and then shared in a communal meal, so Jesus was sacrificed on the Cross, and his Body and Blood are shared in a communal meal, the Holy Eucharist. And in each and every Eucharist, but most especially at Easter, we commemorate the Christian Passover, when Jesus passed over from death into resurrection life. In the words of the Easter Vigil liturgy, “he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered [God’s] faithful people.” And according to the most solemn teaching of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, all the baptized who faithfully partake of the sacrificial feast of bread and wine receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, are brought into deeper fellowship with Christ, and know the forgiveness of their sins. If the Gospel reading for today had stopped halfway through, it would have been enough. For we would have gained a more profound understanding of the identity of Jesus for us: he is God’s Son, and he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But today’s Gospel reading does not stop at identifying Jesus. Instead, it continues with an account of two of the Baptist’s disciples leaving their master to follow Jesus. When he notices these two men following him, he turns and asks them one simple question, “What are you seeking?”—a question that has a wide range of meanings, from the superficial to the sublime. We’ll never know what the two men understand Jesus to be asking, because they never answer his question. Instead, they ask him where he is staying. He responds with an invitation: “Come and see.” And that’s exactly what they do…with one detour. Andrew makes a side-trip to collect his brother Simon. For Andrew rightly realizes that they have found what they sought, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Upon seeing Simon (presumably for the first time), Jesus gives him a new name, Kephás, which is Aramaic for rock. We know him better by his Greek name Pétros, or Peter. (As an aside, the synoptic Gospels give a completely different account of the calling of Peter that cannot be reconciled with John’s account. As to which account is the more reliable, no one can really say for sure.)
Last week, I stated that all of us who are baptized have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and are “christs” with a little “c.” (The Greek work christós just means “anointed one.”) And as we are all anointed ones, we are asked to imitate Jesus, the Anointed One with a capital “a,” the Christ with a capital “c.” Note what Jesus does. He encounters two people. He discerns that they are seekers of some sort. He invites them to “come and see” and opens his home to them. And what comes of this? One of the seekers brings his brother Peter. He, in turn, invites many others. A couple of millennia later, there are over two billion Christians in the world. You know what is going on here, don’t you? Evangelism! And it all started with Jesus’ words, “Come and see.”
A while back, the vestry met with Ms. Denise Obando from diocesan headquarters. One of the goals that came out of that meeting was to incorporate three new members into the congregation in the span of six months. Well, folks, we’re three months in! I know that some of you are reluctant to invite people to church. Some of you have told me that it seems “pushy.” I disagree! It’s not pushy to invite someone to church, it’s loving. If you know someone who’s hurting, tell them, “Come and see.” For this is a community that can bring healing. If you know someone who’s alone in the world, tell them, “Come and see.” For this is a community that cares. If you know someone who’s lost, tell them, “Come and see.” For this is a community that has been found. If you know someone who has questions, tell them, “Come and see.” For this is a community that welcomes inquiry and that has some answers. I ask you to do this, not just to meet the vestry’s quota, but because it is the loving thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do. So invite your children to come to church. Invite your grandchildren and great-grandchildren to come to church. Invite your neighbor and your pharmacist and your local librarian and your bus driver. And when you’ve asked all of them, start inviting any strangers you might meet, like the folks who come to our musical events. Try to engage the people who come your way on a deeper level. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they seek in life, about their hopes and dreams. And then listen with your heart to their response, even when they don’t answer in words. If what they seek is love and life, then give them your most winsome smile, speak of this community of faith and of the loving and life-giving Lord it serves, and invite them to “come and see.” And if they seek something lesser, invite them anyway, for in our Father’s house there are many dwelling places!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.