Sermon on the Agnus Dei

agnusdei-lambofGodTitle: Preaching the Ordinaries – The Agnus Dei

Text: John 1:29-37

Fourth Mid-Week Lenten Service, Wednesday, March 18, 2015

This evening we come to our fourth “Ordinary”—of those five pieces ordinarily sung in the Sunday Morning Divine Service. The fourth Ordinary is called, the Agnus Dei. Years ago my sister-in-law whom I love dearly had a dog named Agnus. I would tell her that Agnus is Latin for “lamb” and since her pet was a canine and not a lamb she should name her pet, “canine” or something like that.

Well my sister-in-law ignored me and I still got to marry her sister. Yes, I know there is a different spelling involved—but I just wanted to tease her—imagine that J . The Agnus Dei is Latin for, “Lamb of God.” Again we sing these words in a trinitarian manner not four times and not two but three for Yahweh is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The words are:

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the

World, have mercy upon us. O Christ, thou Lamb of God, that

Takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the

World, grant us Thy peace. Amen.

Remarkably these words of the Agnus Dei come straight from the lips of John the Baptizer. On a particular day John baptized Jesus in the Jordan and in so doing righteousness was fulfilled. Sin was transferred from sinful humanity and placed upon him who had no sin, Christ. The next day John is out and about with his disciples and seeing Jesus says to his disciples:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jn 1:29.

John knew he needed to decrease and Jesus needed to increase (Jn 3:30).  That is why John points out the Lamb that was to take away the sins of the world.

Back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. And when sin entered the world through that one transgression our first parents tried to hide the shame of their nakedness. The nakedness here has not to do with the absence of clothing. The nakedness here has to do with the fact that our first parents knew that God knew exactly what they had done and who they were. They were naked, no excuses, no explanations, and no reasoning could hide the fact of their sin. In a pitiful attempt to hide their sin, that is, their nakedness, they made fig leaves. But neither fig leaves or any of our good works hides the nakedness of our sin.

And so in the third chapter of Genesis the Lord God slew an animal (Gen 3:21) which means that blood was shed and God draped the skin of that slain animal over Adam and Eve to hide the nakedness of their shame and guilt. Tis true, the Scriptures are silent about what kind of animal God slew. But I, if I were a betting man, I would say God killed a four legged lamb to symbolize and point to the two legged lamb that God in time would provide to be the offering for the sins of the world. And it is in Holy Baptism where we are now clothed with the righteousness that comes from Christ (Gal 3:27 NIV).

The Levitical sacrificial system in the Old Testament centered around the shedding of blood. Whether it was the blood of a lamb, goat, bull, or pigeon—blood was shed showing that the innocent would die for the guilty. And blood needed to be shed for the life of the creature is in the blood (Lev 17:14).

When human blood is shed and transferred you receive human life which lasts at best upwards of one hundred years. This is seen through the good work of the American Red Cross and other such agencies. When God’s blood is shed you receive God’s life and God’s life outlasts eternity. Also remember that the most frequent Levitical sacrifice in the Old Testament was the morning and evening sacrifice where a lamb was sacrificed on the burnt altar (Gen 29:38-39).

And yet it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Heb 10:4). They need a more perfect sacrifice; not the sacrifice of a lamb brought to God, but the sacrifice of a lamb sent from God, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29, 36).

And so when John the Baptist called out; “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) heads turned, tongues stopped, eyes focused, and thoughts were redirected for the people knew the language of sacrifice from Levitical law. What is this lamb being spoken about and why is he on two feet?

Three years later blood would be shed on the burnt altar of the cross where your sins and mine and the sins of the world were forgiven. For there at the cross is where forgives was won that you and I know longer need to make pitiful fig leaves to hide the nakedness of our sins. God had provided a lamb who was sacrificed for the guilty, you and me (Lk 23:34).

In liturgical churches we call this table up front an altar but make no mistake about it, blood was shed two thousand years ago. Blood is no longer shed on the altar but from this altar Sunday after Sunday blood is distributed to sinners. Allow me to quote Luther:

So that our readers may the better perceive our teaching I shall clearly and broadly describe it. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world.[1]

When we sing the Agnus Dei, “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the World, have mercy upon us” those three times, where is Jesus when we sing this to him? Are we singing these words to the Jesus who is in heaven? Or, are we singing these words to the Jesus who is in our hearts? Where is Jesus when we sing the Agnus Dei?

We are singing these words not to Jesus who is in heaven though he is there. And nor are we singing these words to Jesus who is in our hearts, though he is there as well. We are singing the Agnus Dei to Jesus who is on the altar, that is, to Jesus who is in the bread, that is his body, and to Jesus who is in the wine, that is, his blood.

We are singing these words to Jesus who is in the bread and wine upon the altar, not to Jesus who is in our hearts, and not to Jesus who is in heaven, but to Jesus whose body is in the bread and whose blood is in the wine that we may eat and drink and again receive forgives.

Do you see how the historic liturgy teaches the faith? Do you see how the liturgy whether that of Evening Prayer, or Sunday morning comes straight from sacred Scripture? How, just how, can anyone be bored with the historic liturgy for it comes straight from God’s Word—straight from Scripture. To be bored with God’s Word is to say you are bored when your heavenly Father speaks to you and that is a whole other problem. When people are bored with the liturgy and begin to play with it they are minimizing the fact they are sinners in need of Jesus’ forgiveness. May Jesus preserve us from such pride.

So my friends, rejoice that in the bread and wine we have not a “canine” but an “Agnus,” one chosen by God before the foundation of the world was laid (Rev 13:8 NIV). In the bread we are given to eat Jesus’ body which gives life for eternity. And, when you drink Jesus’ blood in the wine you receive Jesus’ resurrected life which outlasts eternity, for you are forgiven and you belong to Jesus who is merciful.

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the

World, have mercy upon us. O Christ, thou Lamb of God, that

Takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the

World, grant us Thy peace. Amen.

 

[1] Martin Luther, “Church and Ministry II,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 40:213.

About Pastor Karl Weber

Karl has been serving St. Paul’s Richville LC and St. John’s, Ottertail, MN since Labor Day, 2004. He was raised in the Roman Church receiving his BA from Fordham University. Before going to seminary he was a computer programmer in Minneapolis. He served as a short term missionary in Guatemala and Kenya, East Africa. He spent time as a member of the ELCA and studied two years at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN pursing his M. Div. before transferring to the LCMS for theological reasons and continuing his studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. He was ordained in 1991 and earned his D. Min. in May 2002 from the same institution. He has contributed study notes to The Lutheran Study Bible. He enjoys deer hunting, going to the gym, swimming, and reading. He is married to Mary and has five wonderful children.

Comments

Sermon on the Agnus Dei — 1 Comment

  1. Speaking of the Agnus Dei and the Mass in general, this post reminds me of an especially excellent work of music by Swedish composer Steve Dobrogosz simply entitled “Mass.” It consists of six segments of the Mass: Introitus, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, and it is performed by choir along with strings and accompanying piano. It is quite beautiful and selected movements from it are occasionally performed in churches having choirs and instrumentalists who are capable. It makes for nice, quiet meditative music very fitting for the up coming holy week. Also, it is available for download at iTunes.

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