by Rev. Kenneth Korby
Abraham was right. That faithful old man, the “father of believers,” was caught in the deepest anguish of his faith when God stuck him on the spear-point of his order to sacrifice his son. Laden with wood on his back, the boy asked,“Father, where is the lamb?” With fire in his box – and in his own heart – and with the knife in his hand, Abraham was faithful.
God provided the Lamb for the burnt offering. And so that you and I and the rest of the world might not miss the Lamb or get muddled with the claims of a thousand and one other messiahs who promote themselves – willing to make us sacrifices to their ideologies and dreams – God took the pains to send John the Baptizer to point to Christ. John, that bony, strange, and brave man, was sent for your service. Let him do his divine service for you as you listen with due attention to his speech: “BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD who takes away the sin of the world.” Follow the direction of his bony finger when he points to that burnt-offering sacrifice on the cross.
Contemplate that Lamb on the cross, the sacrifice offered once and for all time for our redemption. The fire of God’s wrath, fanned by his mercy and passionate love to be our God, roasts this Lamb. Stretched out on the cross, this Lamb is God’s embrace of the world of his enemies: He is our peace. Like a magnet drawing filings to itself, this Lamb, when he is lifted up, “draws all men” to himself. Into himself this Lamb draws the poison of our death: his death is ours. When he dies, we all died.
The curse of death is everywhere in the world. It is in us too. The slavery of death causes us terror in our loneliness, fear in our boredom, anger and grief in our loss. That curse leaves us no rest, no Sabbath. It hunts us down, drags us out of hiding, and snatches us away from all we love. Death and its curse dog our days mercilessly and mock our deceits of culture, religion, and civilization to escape them.
Contemplate the wounds
And yet Israel lived safely in its houses when death passed over the land. Hiding behind the blood of the Lamb, they could eat, talk to each other, and rise up to walk to the land promised to them. So, you too hide yourselves in these sweet and glorious wounds of Christ. Look on the Lamb of God and consider.
On the head of the Lamb are the wounds that heal your minds in the heavenly joy of repentance. Learn to think with a new mind about God and yourself by contemplating the wounds of his head.
In those hands are the wounds that heal the works of your hands, making them fruitful again in the service of God and your fellows.
In those dear feet are the wounds that heal your straying feet so that you may walk with your Lord on the way of your Lord.
On that back are the wounds of stripes that heal all your wounds of self-inflicted flagellation or the blows you receive from the hostility of your fellow victims. Your backs are healed to stoop down and pick up on your shoulders the lost and the straying and the bruised among your fellows.
And from the side of the Lamb, where the spear of our curiosity about death, where the hatred and the violence of our hearts, are rammed deeply into his heart, there flows the mystery of the love of God. There flows the holy church, the mystery of the unity with God as she is bound together in cleansing and forgiving. Water from his death cleanses you in the baptismal washing and cools down the feverish conscience. Blood fills the chalice you drink that your mortal and condemned body, riddled with disorder, might be ordered sweetly again with God in forgiveness of sins that is lively and salvific. In those wounds you may hide safely from the curse and sin and death. From those wounds flows to you the life that is full of blessing, fidelity, and vitality.
Behold and listen
And now, look at those parched, chapped lips. No chap-stick of mortals can heal or soothe them, for in his mouth he suffers the cost of the scorn, the lies, and the blasphemous abuse of his Name. The healing comes rather from his mouth. He utters through those cracked lips the words that heal you – at cost to himself. He is the Author of those gracious words. Therefore, those words have authority – authority to heal you in and with and through those words. He heals not himself but you.
The first word…
His first and last words are addressed to his Father and ours. First: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He does not scorn us in contempt for our ignorance and willfulness. He does not wither us with words of disgust and revulsion. He does not drive back into our souls resentment, the bitter hatred we pour out on him. He embraces it all – and us – to himself, into his body to carry it all to the grave and bury it. The lethal, murderous hatchet is buried. It sinks deeply into his soul and by him the sin is extracted from our soul. We are delivered.
In his body – the body of Mary, of the Tree, of the Table – he carries the sin. But out of that body’s mouth he speaks the word of the forgiveness of sins, the word which creates his body, the church. And by that word he fills the church chock full of forgiveness of sins. Into that body, the church, created by his word of the forgiveness of sins, you have been placed for the daily and generous forgiveness of sin so that you may as freely forgive as you have been forgiven. As the forgiveness springs from the heart of God, you can freely and heartily forgive those who sin against you.
His first word opens the door to life forever. That word, hot with the fire and passion of God, welds us to the faithfulness of the Speaker, creating the faith that embraces him. That union of his mercy and our trust heals us forever in the eternal redemption.
…and the last
And his last word, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” finishes what he began. At the end of his life and work he prays the prayer of his boyhood, the prayer he learned from the lips and laps of his parents. It was his “Now -I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” prayer. Having gathered us together in himself he lifts us up into the Father’s hands as he returns whence he came. With a loud voice he roars into our confused ears and minds what our end is. These words tell us where we are going. He carries us with himself. As he offers himself on the cross, he takes us along that where he is there we may be also. Without ceasing day and night, he who alone can condemn you rather prays for you.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and hears the words of his prayer. His first word is your beginning, your origin, your creation anew in righteousness. His last word is the way you are finished out in perfection. It is the word of your destiny, the word that teaches you to die well, to end your life where it has begun: in him with the Father. Hold that cross before your closing eyes. By faith enfold in your heart this One who has enfolded you in his. Whosoever dies thus dies well.
“Today you shall be with me in paradise.”
In between the first and last word of Jesus, those gracious lips of the suffering Lamb nurture our life for living. To the thief on his right Jesus speaks the word that gives courage to suffer with patience and with hope the rewards we receive for our wrong doing. This is no superficial smile, condescendingly turned to look at a wasted life, botched opportunities, and broken hearts. Here is no look of regret at a life that is full of plain evil and harm unleashed on others. Here is no sentimental muttering about the evil of the system as the painful, shameful verdict falls on the perpetrator of evil. Here is the deep and terrible truth about us who are the proper targets of God’s infallible detection system.
But the deep and terrible truth is caught up in a deeper truth and the terrible good. “Remember me, Lord,” is the cry of faith in the midst of pain – pain justly deserved and suffered. And we, with nothing else than death on our hands, are taught by our Lord’s words how to pray too and how to confess the truth. From our cross we learn to pray to him on his cross: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus, our Priest, says the AMEN: “Truly (Amen), today you shall be with me in paradise.” For his shame there is the gracious look, the beauteous word that covers the thief with glory. For despair and anger there is the life-giving promise. For the empty sorrow of regrets there is the vivifying hope, the root of courage.
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD that you may be filled with patience, courage, and hope.
Do not trick yourself, or deceive yourself, or deprive yourself of the benefits of this Lamb by imagining that his pain and sorrow were somehow not real, as if God’s only-begotten Son would not (surely) feel the brute pain as you do. His is real pain – as real as his real death. He hurt. He died. And for hours, now, he had been mocked and scorned. He was the Victim of coarse injustice. Physically he had been knocked around, whipped, and slapped. Now he is thirsty: plain, burning, parching, painful thirst. Indeed, he thirsts for your salvation, too. We heard him say in last night’s Gospel (Luke 22) how he longed and thirsted to eat this Passover meal (the Lord’s Supper) with his disciples. But his thirst is also plain thirst. Don’t by-pass this plain pain. The recollection of it will sustain you at times when you are in plain pain. Remember his thirst so that you may know the thirst for the Holy Supper when you are in pain and the help offered to you seems as cynical and manipulative as the vinegar he received when he wanted a drink of cool water. Recall his pain with yours so that you may also learn to have pity on those of your fellows who are hungry and thirsty. In them, Christ, incognito, still cries out, “ I thirst”; he still waits for you to care for him in his pain with something other than vinegar.
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD so that in your pain you may have the companionship of him who feeds you and the comfort of him who knows real and inescapable pain.
“Woman, see you son; son, your mother.”
However, the pain goes deeper than the body. Loneliness and lostness, division and separation, loss and rejection, conflict within the circle of family, friends, and loved ones are aches of the heart and soul, too. Mary was a Jewish mother. Can you imagine the confusion that could beset the mind of this pious and God-fearing mother when her son has been tried, deemed worthy of death by God’s law as a blasphemer, despised, and now killed on this instrument of damnation and curse? Her son had been generous and faithful, good and true. He had borne the stamp of divine pleasure in his conception, birth and baptism. And now she watches this scene. What would you women think if this were your son? Would that now be the cause of confusion compounded? Would you not wonder: “What on earth is God doing?”
And then think of John, Jesus’ special friend. What do you do when you stand by and see a friend abused? How desolate John and Mary must have been. They are impotent sufferers, and silent. But in their confusion grieved by the loss of their love, they receive the look of tender love from his eyes. With the gracious look of the face of God who sets the solitary in families, who wraps in the care of his arms those devastated by death, he says, “Woman, see your son; son, your mother.” the separation in his death is the death to our separation; he gives us to each other as mother and son in the company of the holy church.A pledge of peace from God I see
When thy pure eyes are turned to me
To show me thy good pleasure.
Jesus, thy spirit and thy word,
Thy body and thy blood, afford
My soul its dearest treasure.
Keep me Kindly
In thy favor, O my Savior!
Thou wilt cheer me;
Thy word calls me to draw near thou.
(“How Lovely Shines the Morning Star,” stanza 4)
Look at him too when he must go alone, even though our closest attention to him cannot enter the terrible God-forsakenness. The depth of the abyss of hell and damnation, the wretched loss of God himself, is beyond our knowledge and experience. He alone goes to that far country. He has come from the secret heart of God. Now he opens up that secret.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Angels sang at His birth. Angels came to serve Him in the wilderness of temptation. Angels came to comfort Him in His Gethsemanic sweat. But now there are no angels. Ten thousand times ten thousand of powerful shining spirits, faces ablaze with indignation, swords drawn and singing, mounted on steeds chomping at the bit and pawing the sky for release, would have swooped to work a rescue that would have made the most powerful cavalry charge seem like a twitch of the nose. But God looks down on this Man of Sorrows, Grief, and Death, and says to the angels who love to do His will: “Stand back. Do not raise a finger to help. Verily, do not raise an eyelash.”
And God Himself turned away.
The burden is the burden of the Lamb alone.
We are that terrible and lonely burden. He is the God who comes to us in our loneliness, forsakenness, and curse. Lost in the “non-place” of our aloneness, He comes to be our place. We cannot go to Him. He comes to us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Caught in the enchantment of our self-love, bound in the enslavement of our own sin, strapped down by the Law’s verdict of condemnation, and writhing in our shameful servitude, this Lamb comes to us. Well do we sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna – please save us.”
Enough of this religious prattle that speaks of our doing this and deciding that. First He comes to us. He helps us, not by stepping on us, and not by shouting out commands for self-improvement at us, but by coming, by stooping down even under us to lift us up on His neck. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death – even death by the cross. We are His burden.
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.
He isn’t finished. You are not yet finished. But the work is finished; redemption is perfected and completed for you. The price has been paid, in full. Redemption by the Lamb has no missing pieces that you must full in. It is perfected in order to perfect you. By his cross he has brought joy to the whole earth; he is out to perfect you in that joy. He who won the prize and paid the cost through suffering and death speaks the word of the perfected redemption to you so that you may know what you will be like when he is finished with you.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Adore him. Adore his cross. In him on that cross the perfection of heaven, with pure joy, is given to you. He was put to death that he might vivify his people.
MERCIFUL JESUS. LAMB OF GOD, look on us that we may cling to you, and in your mercy have our peace forever. Amen!