Look! Here is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!
A metaphor; one weighty with import. The congregation at Mass and then the celebrant take up this declaration in confessing their faith in what Holy Communion offers.
The words may encapsulate three related images. As a Victorian ribbon painting has been given me, on which, over the painted background, stretch vertical ribbons each painted on both sides, I use this out-of-fashion art to depict them.
The ingenious technique lets onlookers find three pictures as they face the panel from left or right or the centre. One representation transposes into the next as you move round.
At the left would be the Suffering Servant of the interspersed passages in Isaiah 42-53. It is in the last passage, not the one given as a reading today, that is said,
the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
This lengthiest elaboration of the Servant, which is read during the Good Friday liturgy to accord with John's Passion which follows, depicts him as a lamb led to the slaughter; similarly Jeremiah 11:19:
I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.
Through his trials and, we may say, in being butchered, the paradox is that the Servant likened to a lamb is exalted, prefiguring Jesus' rising to glory through condemnation and lifting up in crucifixion.
In my mind's eye, some scene of this prophecy gives way to the painting's central, principal, portrayal of a lamb slain at Passover. In John 19:14, Jesus is said to be condemned the day before Passover, at noon when the Temple priests began bloodily slaying paschal lambs. In none of Jesus' bones being broken (in contrast to the two thieves'), John 19:36 sees fulfilled Exodus 12:46, that none be broken of the paschal lamb.
We should not disparage the Jews' perpetuated Temple worship and so belittle its import for them. In their ritual seeking to submit themselves to God and glorify God by sacrificing valued animals, we uncover what reaches its fulfilment in Jesus' sacrificial death; Jesus the slain yet victorious Lamb whose blood 'ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people' (Rev. 5:6,9).
Look, the lamb provided by God! Attend! -- for in the routine of the eucharist we are usually unappreciative of, because usually inattentive to, the significance of the body and blood of this the great high priest, of this victim which supersedes all the types gone before.
The presentation on the right is of the Lamb in the heavenly scenario of the Book of Revelation. Before him stand the multitudes for whom he will provide, will guide to the waters of life, and wipe away all tears; the conquering Lamb, 'for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.' (17:14) There is the pledge extended to us all who are called through following in suffering and sacrifice.
This is the Lamb of God. What we have pondered is compressed in the sacramental sacrifice of our worship into being the flesh and blood of the metaphorical Lamb for our consumption. This provision of the Lamb who is the Lord is to cement Communion with him, for us to become the lambs, the sheep, of his flock. We thus receive the One who bears our sins in order to forgive and heal.
The New Testament citations have been from the fourth gospel. In its last chapter comes Jesus' probing questioning whether Peter loves him.
'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
As we move round that ribbon painting which in my imagination illustrates three related images of the Lamb of God, the images call for a response. They put to the question our understanding of this Lamb and our relationship to him; and of our relationship in company with him to the rest of the human family.
Redeemed and fed by the sacrificed Lamb, do you and I participate in serving, feeding, the fellow lambs of his flock? Are we grateful for the mercy and kindness that we receive from them?