One of the loveliest aspects of Christian Worship is how many of the words we use in worship are taken from the Bible. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated in our benefice, people are invited to communion using the words of John the Baptist which are heard in the Gospel today: 

‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn 1:29) 

John speaks these words at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, after His baptism and before the calling of the first disciples. John the Baptist has invited people to repent, to turn away from what separates them from God and each other. John’s mission finds its fulfilment in Jesus, whom he has just baptized. Jesus is the person who reconciles God and humanity, through His death on the Cross. This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We are loved by God, who flings His arms wide on the Cross to embrace the world with love. A God who embraces shame and torture, to show the world love. It isn’t what you would expect, and that’s the point. God experiences human pain and suffering and in doing so makes a relationship possible, so that we might come to know Him, and love Him.

John then explains Jesus’ importance:

“This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” (Jn 1:30)

We know from Luke’s Gospel that John is six months older than Jesus, so what is going on here? How can Jesus have been before John? Christ is God Incarnate, He has always existed, and the Eternal has taken flesh in the womb of His mother, Mary. John then bears witness to what occurred when he baptized Jesus:

“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:32-34)

At Jesus’ Baptism we see and hear the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity: God the Father speaks, the Son is obedient, and the Spirit encourages. Jesus will pour out the Holy Spirit, the bond of love between the Father and the Son, the Spirit of healing and reconciliation. John recognises that Jesus is the Son of God, and proclaims this truth, that God dwells with His people. 

The next day John sees Jesus and repeats his exclamation from the day before:

“Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:36)

This causes two of John’s disciples, Andrew and a second unnamed man, to start following Jesus:

‘Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.’ (Jn 1:38-39)

Jesus answers their question with an invitation, ‘Come and see!’ and they do just that, and spend the evening with Him. Clearly their encounter has a powerful effect, because the next day Andrew goes to find his brother, Simon and says, 

‘“We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).’ (Jn 1:41-42)

Here in a series of simple personal encounters, Jesus calls His first disciples. This is the beginning of a movement which has brought us together today. We, like the Christians in Corinth to whom St Paul wrote, are:

‘those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’ (1Cor 1:2)

We can call upon His name in prayer because He loves us, and saves us from our sins. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, even from the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men, Our Lord’s life and mission is to be understood in terms of the death He will suffer. It is this sacrificial, self-giving love which God pours out on His World, which streams from our Saviour’s pierced side. This makes our peace with God, and with one another. It is this recognition of who and what Jesus really is that enables us to recognize who and what we really are. By following Jesus’ teachings and example we can live our lives truly, wholly, and fully, loved by God and loving one another. 

Together, we can do this most profoundly when we celebrate the Eucharist together, because the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It unites heaven and earth through the sacrifice of Calvary, and allows all humanity to share the Body and Blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. We feed on Him so that we may become what He is. This enables us to share eternity with Him, and to live lives of faith and hope, and love. So then, let us give thanks for Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Agnus Dei, and enter into the mystery of God’s self-giving love. Let us together give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now, and forever.

Saint John the Baptist Sees Jesus from Afar – James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

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