The Rev. Canon John L.C. Mitman
27 March 2016
Grace Episcopal Church
In spite of the fact that the we received a dusting of snow just a week ago, it’s actually spring and it’s beginning to look and feel like spring. If we were an agricultural community, this might be called “Lambing Season”, the season of the year in which baby sheep, “lambs”, are born. This is “lambing season” in the church as well because Easter is the Season of the Lamb. Here at Grace Church, the Lamb is pictured in at least two of our stained glass windows, one being in the front window right over there on the Epistle side of the church and the lamb is also prominently displayed in a shield at the center of the Rood Screen, just under the crucifix.
This image of the Lamb of God has a rich and profound history that extends through both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Remember how the Jews in Egypt were ordered to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts in anticipation of their escape from Egypt? By virtue of the mark of that blood, the homes of the Jews were Passed Over by the angel of death and thus the Jews were delivered from Egypt. Hence, of course, we have the word, Passover! To this very day, at Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters include lamb in their Seder meal to help remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Remember the Prophet Isaiah? In the 52nd chapter of Isaiah, read twice in just this past Holy Week, we find Isaiah’s reference to the innocent lamb which was led to the slaughter. This was Isaiah’s vision of the lamb which gave its life as a ransom for human sin. So it is that in St. John’s Gospel, we hear John the Baptist declare, when he sees Jesus at the Jordan, "Behold the Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world”, a verse which is part of every celebration of the Mass.
Even in the final book of the Christian Scriptures, the Book of Revelation, the lamb is with us. We read, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” And here, at Grace Church in this Easter Season we will sing the wonderful, rousing hymn, “At the Lamb’s High Feast we sing, Glory to our God and King!” And again, liturgically, in every celebration of the Mass, we say or sing the words, in English or in Greek, “O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” In Greek, the Agnus Dei.
From the beginning to the end of scripture and right on into our life together here at Grace Church in art, stained glass, music and in liturgy, the Lamb is with us, the Lamb is part of us, the Lamb is leading us, as the Lamb is all the while redeeming us.
Hence, just as we have been talking these last three weeks about our little community of Christians here at Grace Church as being people of the Sacred memory, we might also say that we are the People of the Lamb!
There’s a story that comes out of Lambing Season which we may find helpful. A shepherd awakened one spring morning to find that one of his ewes, his adult female sheep, had given birth to a lamb, but sadly, the newborn lamb had died. As he inspected the flock, he found a second lamb which had been born the same night, but, again sadly, this time it was the ewe, the mother, that had died. So there was the shepherd with a dead lamb and a dead ewe on one hand and a surviving newborn and an orphaned lamb on the other. Quick thinking would press the shepherd to give the newborn orphan into the care of the childless mother. It makes sense. Tragically, it just doesn’t work that way. Because, you see, the mother knows that the lamb does not belong to her, it fails to bear her scent. The lamb on the other hand is too confused, too shocked, too immature to try to get that ewe to consider adoption.
The prophets and all those ancient near-eastern peoples were very familiar with lambing and the raising of sheep. So it is that the prophets of old saw, in this all-too-common circumstance of the death of a ewe and the death of a lamb, the prophets saw in this circumstance a perfect image of our relationship with God.
Back to the farm for just one more moment, back to the ewe and the lamb: You see all shepherds know that there is a remedy to this situation, this dual tragedy. For if the shepherd takes a bit of the blood of the dead lamb, mixes it in a pail of warm water and then washes the surviving, orphaned lamb in it, the mother will recognize the familiar scent, in fact her own scent; she will recognize the orphaned lamb as her very own and will immediately begin to feed and care for it as her own flesh and blood. In other words, the orphan is saved and brought to life by its adoption through those few drops of blood, “washed in the blood of the lamb.”
Now, please bear with me for one more minute: We, you and I, from time to time become so alienated from one another and from God that we, like that dying and orphaned lamb, are dying from starvation, the starvation which comes of broken relationships, and at the same time that God is grieving bitterly from the loss of our life, our affection, our living presence our relationship.
Today, on this Feast of the Resurrection, we celebrate the fact that humankind, which was once orphaned, alienated and marked for death through our disobedience and sin, that same humankind has been washed in the blood of not just any lamb but the Lamb of God who is Jesus. Washed, healed, forgiven and restored, we are thereby reconciled to God. Once again, we are welcomed, enfolded, housed by God, cared for as beloved sons and daughters.
It’s a good bet that you didn’t come here this morning expecting to hear so much about lambs and sheep and blood. But we all know that we can’t live without our life blood coursing through our veins. Without it there is no life. So also, without the gift of the life blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Christ, we are also doomed to nothingness.
But this is not a day of nothingness, but the day of everything! It’s the day of life, new life in Our Risen Lord.
It is the day of forgiveness, adoption, restoration and freedom;
It’s the day of the death of death.
And so in great thanksgiving and joy, we proclaim once again,
v. Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
r. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia
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