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Behold The Lamb

John 1:29-41

The Rev. Jon Roberts

20 January

2008

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

29 And immediately he[a] left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.
32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. 40 And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will; be clean.”

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Mary had a little lamb, unknown artist, late 19th C., New York Public Library

If one were to travel to the middle of town in Sterling, Massachusetts, they would behold the sight of a simple statue. There, in the middle of town, stands the image of a little girl and a lamb. Those who visit Sterling, behold the sight of this girl and her lamb, and some are inclined to look down, and read the inscription at their feet. To their surprise, they read the familiar words to a nursery rhyme.

Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.
He followed her to school one day;
That was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play;
To see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.
"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cry;
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher did reply.

There was a girl who grew up in Sterling named Mary Sawyer and she did have a little lamb who followed her to school one day. The poem, was inspired by this true incident, and eventually it married to the rhythmic tune we all know. “Mary had a little lamb, A little lamb, a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow.”
As we sing along, we imagine how Mary must have felt, and are drawn into the love the lamb had for this little girl. What we behold is something pure. Something without blemish.

On April 20th of this year, millions of Hebrews around the world will celebrate the first day of the Jewish Passover. During this time, there is a heartfelt devotion towards the saving act of something pure. If we follow along with this celebration, we are taken back in time to the land of Egypt. There, we can imagine how Moses must have felt, when he tried to free his people from bondage. Do you recall the very last thing, the last plague or curse, that Pharoah and his people endured? Far worse than frogs jumping all over the place, locusts ravaging their harvests, or their skin breaking out with terrible sores. Can you recall the last thing that happened before Pharoah reluctantly let the Hebrews go?

The deciding factor occurred on the night called the Passover when Moses told the people to sacrifice a lamb. One that was pure, without blemish and they were to sacrifice, to kill, the lamb, taking its blood and paint it on all sides of the door posts. By doing that, God told Moses, the angel of death would pass over, laying no harm to the first born child of any family. That night a terrible cry was heard throughout Egypt. The memory continues today, as Jews give thanks to God for saving them; freeing them from slavery, by a saving act of something that was pure, and without blemish. In the background of the Passover, at its root, lies the one who made the greatest sacrifice that night. From the Hebrew “Pesah”, to the Greek, “pascha”, we see, it is the “Lamb.” Later it is adopted by the Romans in New Testament days, and we see the Lamb, the “Agnus”, who is the one foretold, that gives the greatest sacrifice of all. “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” We hear this from John, the beloved evangelist, who spoke of Jesus as the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. And then, there is that curious ending, “have mercy on us.” A lamb, laying down its life, to save others, … merciful? This illustration can be strange. When one thinks of something that shows mercy, most often it is of one who is greater in size or strength. It is someone bigger than ourselves.

Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, according to St. Matthew. In that story, John the Baptist speaks about one who is greater than we are. Today, we hear an almost identical story of Jesus’ baptism, according to St. John. We hear the same Baptist who bears witness to the coming Messiah. We see Jesus dip his feet into the same river. The same dove descends down from heaven and rests on Jesus. Almost identical, yet the two gospels differ in what they behold. In St. Matthew we hear the voice of God say, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased,” but no reference to the Agnus Dei. In St. John’s gospel we hear the Baptist declare the lamb of God, but hear no voice of God who announced he was well pleased with his son. One gospel beholds the voice of God in heaven, and the other beholds the Lamb of God on earth. Two characters as God’s voice is heard above and Jesus’ sacrifice is seen below. Two movements, both out of love for one another follow each other closely.

Again, we have another Epiphany; a revelation, this second Sunday after Christmas. We began our journey, following a star and beholding the baby Jesus in the manger. We followed the evangelist Matthew to the Jordan, beheld the voice of God. Now we follow the evangelist John to the Jordan, and behold the Lamb of God. We are drawn into the love of God that is pure as a baby. We are drawn into the love of a father who is well pleased in his son. Today, we are drawn into the love of a lamb, the sacrifice for the whole world. Loving and merciful. If we travel to the middle of town, somewhere between the manger and the Jordan, what we behold once again is the heart of God. We see the images of a baby, a son, and a lamb. There too, some of us are inclined to look down and when we do, we may read an inscription at their feet. To no surprise, it goes to the tune of a favorite verse.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son,
that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

We all have a little lamb.
Whose fleece is white as snow.
And everywhere the people went
The lamb was sure to go.
He followed us to school one day.
That was against the rule;
He made the children laugh and play;
To see a lamb at school.
And so the teachers turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till we did appear.
"Why does the lamb love us so?"
We, eager children cry;
"Why, we love the lamb, you know,"
The father did reply.

[1] https://modernfarmer.com/2017/12/true-story-behind-mary-little-lamb/
[2] John 1:29-41
[3] The Rev. Jon Roberts, adapted.

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