Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Lamb of God (Epiphany 2 Year A)

Isaiah 49: 1-7
Psalm 40: 1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

We are still in the season of Epiphany . . . revealing, making known . . . where the God of Glory is revealed to humankind.

In some way each of our passages, this week, talk about this revealing of the God of Glory. However, I’m going to focus on our gospel passage. The revelation of Jesus as the lamb of God . John the baptiser proclaims, “here is the Lamb of God”.

Our interpretation and understanding of the phrase “the Lamb of God” is key to understanding how this proclamation reveals the God of Glory.

Typically, this has been tied to crucifixion, a lamb led to the slaughter, using imagery from Old Testament sacrificial law. Pictures (even those we make up in our own heads) always depict a pretty little lamb, happily skipping along to be sacrificed without a struggle or a murmur.

(This is not really true. If you want to know about the fear and resistance put up by God’s creatures as they are forcibly taken to be murdered ask Andy to recommend some of his animal rights’ videos like Meet your Meat)

This portrait of lambs, peaceful and calm is an image we have projected back onto our scriptures. We prefer it to the more truthful picture of violence and pain. Sometimes it is easier not to face the reality of the things depicted in the O.T.. Sometimes they are so out of our experience that they are impossible to imagine.

So we have to wonder about how those listening would take this title “Lamb of God” and see it as the revelation of God’s glory. John’s disciples were waiting for a strong leader, one who would stand up against the oppression and domination system they were under. How disappointing it would have been to see the mighty saviour revealed as a lamb. They wanted a revelation of power and strength not meekness and sacrifice! It would have been a bit disappointing for them

So, I want to read against the grain. That is when we look at the text and ask if there is another way of looking at the passage than the traditional way. I want to look for an alternative interpretation of the phrase “Lamb of God”. One that would make much more sense to me of how the revelation of Jesus as the Lamb of God would impact the people of that time. The impact was such that they would leave jobs, spouses, families etc. to follow him.

So I want to offer an interpretation that I actually found in several sources.

We must first understand how important watching the night sky and reading the constellations was to the people of the time. It was God’s way of revealing important events. At the beginning of Epiphany we read about the Magi following a star, reading the signs of the birth of the Messiah in the stars.

I want us to think specifically of the constellation, Aries. Both Jews and Greeks understood this as representing a male lamb.

Quote . . . “It is important to note that Aries is the first created, cosmic being, the first constellation in the zodiac, the centre and head of the cosmos as the astronomers say. Nigidius Figulus, first-century C. E., called Aries "the leader and prince of the constellations"; the Scholia in Aratum (545) relates that “the Egyptians say Aries is the head”; Nonnos says Aries “is the centre of the whole cosmos, the central navel of Olympus . . .”

This is taken from a large document which can be read here.

Also, it is worth noting that the passover was celebrated in their first month when Aries ruled the sky (high in the sky)

So, if we take our phrase “Behold the Lamb of God”, and read it in the mindset of the importance of the night sky we get a whole different set of imagery.

“Lamb of God” not a meek and mild sacrificial lamb but a rising, powerful, leader, centre of the universe, etc.

Perhaps this was what the followers of John immediately thought of when they heard John’s declaration. The God of Glory was being revealed. Their great hope of a powerful leader was being fulfilled. This hope would not only be for the Jewish people but would span many cultures.

I would want to add that this is a very male image. In some aspects could be thought of as almost warlike. Therefore we would need to continue to read against the grain other passages. Those which show that the power of Jesus was a very different sort of power. However, for today, I want to note that right at the beginning of the gospel, the author of John gives hope to the people. The Lamb of God is rising!