Friday, 2 April 2021

The Lamb who Comes

Preached at Croydon Minster on Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17,31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13.1)

 

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The Christian Gospel is a proclamation, that is to be lived out day by day, of liberation from all that enslaves, obscures our vision and restricts our lives.

 

The purpose of this Gospel is that we are free to gain clarity of sight and to be alive to the ways and purposes of God so that, in Christ, we are delivered into the very heart of God.

 

That is the golden thread that runs through, and holds together, tonight, Good Friday and Easter.

 

This is the Passover of the Lord; the Paschal Mystery.

 

To this day – in fact this week - God’s first-chosen people the Jews, annually celebrate Pesach - the Passover. They celebrate Israel’s long, hard liberation from Egypt, with its false starts and trials, its bitter herbs and laments, as a pattern of all liberation and God’s enduring relationship with them through the observance of Torah.

 

For Christians we find that the symbols and promise of the Passover is fulfilled and made known in Christ, who now opens to all nations what Israel has already tasted and anticipates.

 

This we taste and see as we celebrate the Eucharist. This was handed on to St Paul and it is handed on in turn to us.

 

The Eucharist has echoes of Passover: unleavened bread; wine; remembrance; blood; accounts of God’s liberating love in the scriptures.

 

The one thing apparently missing is a Passover lamb. In Genesis Isaac asks Abraham, ‘where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’ To which Abraham replies, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son’ (Genesis 22.7,8).

 

God has provided. As John the Baptist declares on seeing Jesus: ‘Behold, look, see: the Lamb of God’ (John 1.29).

 

In the scriptures the Lamb is the sacrificial offering which makes right Israel’s relationship with God. In the Eucharist, given to us by Christ at the Last Supper – on the night that he was betrayed – he takes the place of the Lamb: he is the victim and he is the priest who makes the offering.

 

The whole cosmos, the created order, our lives: all is God’s gift, God’s offering. In Christ, God is the offerer and the offering.

 

This cosmic reality has a divine and human face. It is the face of the kneeling Jesus who looks up from the feet of his disciples into their eyes and says, you can have no part in me, no part in my mission and life, if you do not let me serve you.

 

What an extraordinary thing! Christ asks no more of the disciples than that they should allow him to serve them, so that they in turn might serve him in one another, and love as he loves us: the New Commandment.

 

As our gospel reading began:

 

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13.1)

 

‘Love to the end’ is what the liberating Gospel is. Hence the traditional Maundy Thursday anthem at the washing of feet: Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est ‘Where charity and love is found, there is God’.

 

Christ, in the form of God and form of man, takes the form of a slave, humbles himself and is obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2.6,7,8).

 

Isaac had taken wood for the sacrifice of a Lamb; the wood of the cross is the place of sacrifice of the Lamb of God. And that sacrifice is presented to us afresh in the immediacy of broken bread and poured out wine: ‘far as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11.26).

 

This is the foretaste and reality of the banquet of the Lamb, around whose throne all nations gather and to whom salvation belongs. Of this Lamb we read:

 

the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,

   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7.17)

 

Tonight from the eyes of Peter and Judas tears of denial and betrayal will flow; tomorrow the tears of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, will flow; on Easter morning the tears of Mary Magdalene will obscure her sight of Christ.

 

Tears are real. Just as Christ washes and wipes feet, our tears too will be wiped away, our sins will be wiped away.

 

O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.

 

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