By the Rev. Darren Miner
Last Sunday, as you may recall, was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and we heard St. Matthew’s account of that event. Today we get a second version of that event, taken from the Gospel of St. John. Now, in Matthew’s account, Jesus sees the heavens open up and the Spirit descend like a dove. But it isn’t absolutely clear if anyone else sees what Jesus sees, or hears what he hears. Well, St. John’s Gospel clarifies the matter. 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 finally arrived.
The Baptist announces to all within hearing distance that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s a rather curious expression, and the meaning is not self-evident. The most common interpretation of this metaphor is that John is equating Jesus with the paschal lamb, the animal that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten in a communal meal each year at the Passover in commemoration of the Exodus. Now, the sacrifice of the paschal lamb was a symbol of the redemption of Israel. 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 whole world.
As the Church Fathers noted long ago, there are also 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 the Sacrament of his Body and Blood is shared in a communal meal, namely, Holy Communion.
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 true identity of Jesus: he is both God’s Son and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.