Worship and the Lamb of God
January 16, 2005
Those of you, who were listening attentively to the Gospel may have noticed that there was a line in the Gospel that is used in another place in our liturgy. John the Baptist speaks it: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These are the very words which are said at every mass by the presider as he invites the assembly to communion. So we have the same words found in the Gospel of John and also in our liturgy.
If I were to ask you to guess in which of these two places did this saying first occur, you would probably guess the Gospel of John. It is easy to imagine that John wrote it into his Gospel and later it was taken from the Scriptures and made a part of our liturgy. But there are serious reasons to suppose that the exact opposite is true. You see, the Gospel of John was written at the end of the first century and by that time, Christians had been celebrating liturgy for many decades. Therefore it is actually more likely that John chose to include this saying within his Gospel because his community had been using it in its liturgy for many years. Before there was the Bible, before there was the New Testament, there was a community, a church, which gathered for prayer. Before Christians could find the presence of Christ in the written word of the Scriptures, they found the presence of Christ as they gathered together to worship. This primacy of worship is a good topic for us to consider as we begin this New Year and as we return to Ordinary Time in our Liturgical Year.
Why is it so important for us to gather in worship? Or to put this on a more personal level, why is it that you come regularly here to share this Eucharist? Do you come out of obligation because you will feel guilty if you do not come? Do you come out of habit because you have been conditioned to do so? Those reasons will get you here but they are not the best reasons. The fundamental reason we gather together as we do each weekend is because Christ is here. Christ has promised to be here. He has told us that where two or three are gathered in his name, there he is in the midst of them. He has commanded us to share this meal in memory of Him. So when the community gathers, Christ is present. And the community gathers in order that they might encounter the Risen Christ.
Now when I say this, I am not saying that this is the only place that Christ is present. Christ is present in many places. Often when you talk to Catholics who do not come to church, they point this out to you. They will say, I do not go to church but I find Christ in my prayer. I find Christ when I read the Bible at home. I find Christ as I walk out into nature. I find Christ as I serve other people. I find Christ every weekend on the 18th tee. I will not argue with any of those statements. Christ is found in all of those places. However, the primary place where Christ has promised to be present is here—when we gather together to worship. From the beginning of Christianity, from the evening of the Resurrection, the community gathered, and when the community gathered, Christians encountered the Risen Christ.
So what does this mean for all of us? It means that we should come here every weekend expecting to meet Christ. We should not come out of obligation or habit but out of faith and anticipation, believing that Christ is here and we will encounter Him. It might be in a word, a line that you hear from the Scriptures being proclaimed. It might be from a point in the homily. It could be as you sing the acclamations during the Eucharistic Prayer or as you come forward to receive the real presence of Christ, the Body and Blood of our Savior. It might be as you meet other members of the community who you know or see faith in the face of a stranger. It might be in the music, it might be in the silence. Wherever it is, Christ is here and we should come expecting to meet Him. The words of John the Baptist should ring in our ears and in our hearts, reminding us why we gather: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Christ is Savior!
Christ is here!
Don’t miss Him!
Behold the Lamb of God
January 20, 2008
John 1: 29 – 34
The scriptures use images to try to tell us who God is and who Jesus is. In today’s Gospel we receive a very important image. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Now what does this image mean? Why does John call Jesus a lamb? It seems like such a soft symbol. Is John saying Jesus is cute and cuddly? Not at all. Anyone at the time of Jesus would know immediately the significance of a lamb. Lambs were associated with sacrifice. In the temple of Jerusalem lambs were killed to atone for the sins of Israel. So when John calls Jesus a lamb, he is pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. A sacrifice which we believe atones for our sins and reconciles us to God. But what makes Jesus’ sacrifice effective is not that it is bloody but that it is motivated by love. And so calling Jesus a lamb is pointing to Jesus’ sacrificial love by which we are saved. We are called to imitate Jesus action, to live with sacrificial love.
He was eight years old and in a hospital room anticipating a serious operation. He was afraid. He asked his doctor, “What is it like to die?” His doctor said, “You’re not going to die, don’t worry about it.” The nurses and the medical staff assured him there was nothing to worry about and that he should put his fear out of his mind. But no one would speak to him about death. So he continued to be afraid. One night a woman on the maintenance staff came in to mop the floor of his room. The boy asked her, “Are you afraid to die?” “Yes I am,” she said and she put down her mop and pulled a chair up to his bed. “I am afraid but I believe that God is with me.” She spoke to the boy as an equal not as a superior. She told him of her belief of God and the comfort that she took in the words of Jesus. The two of them spoke for some time. When she left, he was at peace because someone had hear his question and listened to his fear. Behold the Lamb of God.
You had a tough day at school and yes today you have homework. Before you get to it, you are spending some time at the computer surfing the net. You notice through the window that your mother has just pulled into the driveway and opened the trunk. The trunk is filled with groceries. Funny, but you never reflected before on how many groceries it takes to feed your family. The bags look heavy, and your mom looks tired. Exhausted would be a better word. She gets that way after running around for hours. You turn back to the computer screen, but then you stop and you make a decision. You put on your coat and go out into the driveway and help her carry the heavy bags into the kitchen. Then you say to her “I’ll put these away. I know where they go.” Behold the Lamb of God.
She was only 27 and in the last month lost both her father and her mother. Her husband and she did not know how to cope with the loss. They never faced anything like this before. She was devastated and found it difficult at times to make it through the day. Her husband for his part felt keenly inadequate. He could not figure out what to do to lift her grief. Then the evening came for them to go and see the musical Wicked. They had bought tickets months ago. Two of the leads sang a song that reminded her of her mother and she began to weep. Suddenly her husband realized what his role was—to hold her hand, to have the Kleenexes ready, and to let her know that he would still be there when the music ended and the lights came back on. Behold the Lamb of God.
Every day you and I have opportunities to act with sacrificial love, to set aside our agenda and our priorities and to reach out to someone else in generosity and compassion. Every time we take up one of those opportunities, the Lamb of God continues to walk in our midst. Christ uses our actions of sacrificial love to continue to bless and heal. When we seize the opportunities that are presented, Christ continues to save the world through us.
Reacting or Leading?
January 16, 2011
John 1: 29-34
What we need in this country is not people who react, but people who lead. Over the last week our news media has been filled with discussions and analysis surrounding the tragic shooting in Tucson. Everyone abhors the senseless killings. But, this event has also spurred a kind of soul searching among many people as to what kind of society we live in and how we treat one another. A common question that rises up in this discussion is whether the violent tragedy in Arizona will shock Americans into being less violent with one another. Will this exercise of brutal force move people who disagree to treat one another with greater dignity and respect, to tone down the violent slurs and angry words that so often seem to characterize our political dialogue and our interaction with one another?
I certainly wish that this would be the case. But I am less than hopeful, because when people move to a good thing in reaction to a tragedy, their commitment to that good thing often lasts only as long as the tragedy lasts. Once the victims have been buried, once the speeches have been made, once the violent images fade from our memories and we return to what we call normal life, then the good resolutions which were made in reaction to the tragedy tend to slip. Sooner than later people find themselves speaking and acting in ways that serve their political agenda or personal goals. They again begin to treat others with violence and disrespect.
What we need in this country is not people who react, but people who lead. You and I as followers of Jesus should not be afraid to lead by the witness of our lives. John the Baptist calls out to us today from the Gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John presents Jesus to us as the one that we should accept and follow, the Son of God. His gospel should guide our lives. The gospel of Jesus is not founded on anger or violence. It is not serving any political agenda. It is not made to conform to social acceptability. It is based on who God is and who God has made us to be. The image that John uses for Jesus shapes the gospel. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God—not the lion of God or the eagle of God, but the Lamb of God. The lamb is not an animal which exhibits violent power, but one that displays peace and sacrificial service.
You and I as followers of Christ should not be afraid to lead others by the example of our lives. We should treat every person with honesty and respect, not because of some terrible tragedy, but because we believe God has made every person with an inherent dignity which we are called to acknowledge and honor. We should refuse to approach others with angry slurs and violent accusations, not because people were shot in Arizona, but because we believe in Christ who teaches us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies. We should refuse to use coercion and force in our families, in our workplace, and in our society, not because a deranged person committed an act of violence, but because we follow he who is the Lamb of God and who calls us to sacrificial service.
What our country needs is not people who react, but people who lead. Let us use our faith in Christ and our adherence to his gospel to lead others to accept the inherent dignity of every person, and to move our society to greater justice and peace.
The Freedom of the Baptist
January 19, 2014
John the Baptist is the Patron Saint of Freedom. John had his own ministry, but he was not threatened by Jesus’ ministry. John did not feel he needed to compete with Jesus. He was secure enough in who he was that he could proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God. This is what we see John doing in today’s gospel. We can feel his strength and his confidence even as he invites his own disciples to leave him and follow after the Lord. We need the kind of freedom that John displays, because all too often we measure ourselves against others. We somehow think that the gifts and successes of others diminish our own. So instead of having the freedom to affirm the good that we see in others, we allow our lives to be ruled by jealousy and competition. This rivalry can characterize our lives. It is so fundamental that it can be seen even in children.
As Mary brought her newborn child home from the hospital, her thoughts were centered on her son Michael who was three years old. For all of Michael’s life he was the only child in the family, and Mary knew that he was a sensitive child. She was worried about how jealous he would be with a new brother. Mary had read all the books that she could find on sibling rivalry. She even decided that she would hire a nurse named Annie to come in for a few weeks to help Michael and the rest of the family adjust. Despite her concerns, however, Mary was surprised to see that Michael adored his brother from the start. He loved helping Annie feed the baby and bathe him. He even brought some of his toys and placed them in the baby’s crib to share. After weeks of this behavior Mary concluded that she had worried about nothing. Michael was not at all jealous of his brother. She let Annie know that with things going so well she could now manage without a nurse. So Annie said goodbye to everyone in the family, and Mary watched as Annie walked away from the house towards her car. Suddenly there was this cry of distress from Michael. “Annie,” he yelled running out of the house towards his former live-in nurse. “Annie,” he said. “You forgot your baby.”
Rivalry comes naturally to us. It diminishes our freedom. We are not able to be ourselves because we keep comparing ourselves to others. I am not a good mother because I am not the mother that she is. I am not a good businessman because I am not as successful as he is. I am not a likable person because I am not as popular as they are. I cannot find joy, because I am not like my brother, or my friend, or my teacher. All of this comparing, all of this competition binds us up. It enslaves us. That is why we need the freedom of John the Baptist. We need to stop comparing and speak the truth.
Where did John the Baptist find his freedom? John was free because he knew who he was and who God was. John understood that he had a relationship with God and that God loved him as a beloved child. John knew that other people had relationships with God and some of them, like Jesus, were even closer to God than he was. But this did not threaten John because John knew that his relationship with God was real and sufficient. This is what we need to know. We need to claim the truth that we are beloved daughters and sons of God. We need to know that our relationship with God will stand, regardless of whatever relationship other people have or do not have. When we are secure in our own relationship with God, we can overcome jealousy. Then we can find the freedom to be the people we are, the freedom to speak the truth, the freedom to give witness to the Lamb of God.
God’s Big Plan
January 15, 2017
John 1: 29-34
You have to give it to John the Baptist. He is a man who thinks big. When he sees Jesus in today’s gospel, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John is using an image from Jewish cultic practice, by which the lamb serves to reconcile people to God. But it is when John describes the mission of this lamb that John’s thinking is most expansive. Jesus is the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Not the sin just of Israel. Not the sin of just this or that group. But the sin of the entire world. John’s acclamation is one of the clearest places in the New Testament to assert that it is God’s intention to save all, that God’s love extends to every person, that Jesus’ mission is to reconcile the entire world to God.
John’s vision is a universal one, and it is important for us to hear it. Because all too often, we place limits on the size of God’s love. We imagine that God is about saving us as individuals, helping us move beyond our habits of sin, giving us strength to carry our crosses, leading us to reach our hopes and our dreams. God certainly is involved in all of these aspects of our lives. But God is bigger than that. God’s love extends to all people. It takes away the sin of the world. Sometimes we imagine that God is only about saving our families and our friends or those who live in the same country as we do. But God’s plan is wider. God’s love extends to every person, in every country on this planet.
Now once we appreciate the scope of God’s love, it has consequences for our own life. If God’s love is universal, it is an invitation to us to widen our love. When we claim Jesus as the Lamb of God, it is not enough only to worry whether our children and our friends have employment. We must also be concerned to create an economic climate in which there are more quality jobs for everyone who wants to work. It is not enough for us to be thankful for the positive lifestyle that we possess. We must also care for those families who struggle to feed their children and cannot find adequate healthcare. When we call Jesus the Lamb of God, it is not enough simply to love our neighbor. We must work with people of good will to create a just and legal immigration process by which those from outside of our country can become our new neighbors and share with us in the blessings that this country affords.
God does not place limits on God’s love. Neither should we. It might be easier simply to care for those who are closest to us, but that is not the gospel. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
What Are You Living For?
January 19, 2020
Thomas Merton once said, “If you want to know who I am, do not ask me where I live or what I like to eat or how I comb my hair. Ask me what I am living for.” It is a terrifying question, isn’t it? What am I living for? It invites us to face our deepest value. It calls us to name that which directs our lives. In Merton’s question a second question is implied: “Is what I am living for enough?” Enough to warrant the life that I have been given.
So in today’s homily I would like us to face this question. What are we living for? What force is directing my life? There might be some here today living for the end of their education, looking beyond college or graduate studies to go on with life. That is a valuable goal. But is it enough? Others here might be living for retirement. Such a purpose would be understandable and deserved. But is it enough? Still others here might be living for their grandchildren. What a joy they are. But is it enough to live for?
John the Baptist might help us as we struggle with Merton’s question, because John the Baptist is very clear about what he is living for. He is living to be a part of God’s plan for the world. John knew that God was going to send Jesus to save us. John understood that he had a role to play in that plan. So, all that John did—his teaching, his work in the desert—were all aimed at bringing that plan to fruition. As he says in the gospel, “I came baptizing with water so that he might be known to Israel.” John points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s all that John needed to do, because that is what he was living for.
Today’s gospel invites us to understand that the lives we live have a part to play in God’s plan for the world. When we graduate from college the knowledge we have learned is more than just a way to earn a living. It is a part of God’s plan to make a better world. Finding the way that we can use our knowledge for God’s purposes gives meaning to our life. Retirement is not simply a way to rest. The time and opportunities of retirement are meant to be for God’s purpose. Discovering how we can use our experience and talents in new ways to serve God’s will is deeply satisfying. Spending time with our grandchildren is not just a way to make us happy. It is a part of God’s plan. The love and wisdom we share with them will one day be love and wisdom for their own children and enrich the future society in which they live.
When we choose to use our talents and opportunities as a part of God’s plan, we find a deeper meaning for living. God is able to use our simple actions for his own good purpose. That is something worth living for. That is always enough, because there is no greater joy than being able to participate in God’s plan to love and save the world.