Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-41
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 15, 2023
Last week, we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus from St. Matthew’s perspective, and today, we heard St. John’s retelling of what he saw. Matthew described Jesus’s actual baptism in detail, but in telling the same story, John is more interested in focusing on the signs that might lead others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal Jesus’s identity as the Messiah gradually over time, but not so with John. Right out of the gate, he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Just before today’s passage, John the Baptist enters the scene and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” quoting the prophet Isaiah. He says that he is not the Messiah, and that he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after him. The next day, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and responds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” On other words, Look! This is the one I’ve been telling you about! John doesn’t describe Jesus as a royal conqueror or as a warrior – that would have made a lot of sense, as the Jews were expecting an earthly, political Messiah – he calls him the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in power and might, God chose to send the Messiah as a weak lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
From Exodus 12, we know that at the Passover, the Hebrews were to slaughter a lamb, smear some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When God passed through the land to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would pass by the Israelites’ houses and spare their first-born sons, delivering them from death by the blood of the lamb. This is the first of several times that John links Jesus with the paschal lamb. And very early on, Christians reinterpreted Passover symbolism in light of the Eucharist. Paul says in First Corinthians, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast,” a phrase that many of us know from the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy in our prayer book. We also are familiar with the Agnus Dei, the traditional fraction anthem: “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” There’s another moment in the historic Western liturgy where Jesus is referred to as a lamb, and that is just before the priest receives communion. You all are used to me turning around and showing you the consecrated bread and wine while saying, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” a phrase that the revisers our prayer book borrowed from the East. The traditional text when the Sacrament is shown to the faithful is John the Baptist’s joyful and exciting proclamation upon seeing Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.”
John responds the same way when he sees Jesus the next day: “Behold the Lamb of God”, but this time, Andrew and Simon Peter heard him say this and decided to follow Jesus.
You’ve heard me refer to my time as a Baptist missionary in Paris, France, in my young twenties. My faith was young and fresh and full of vigor, and I felt called to say, proverbially or literally to anyone who would listen, “Behold the Lamb of God!” But I don’t recall anyone responding by choosing to follow Jesus as quickly as Andrew and Simon Peter did!
But perhaps the point isn’t looking for immediate results. After John the Baptist’s exciting proclamation, Jesus asks Simon Peter and Andrew, “What do you seek?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “stayed with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially means that they went to hang out with Jesus. It was this deep, intimate encounter with him that led Peter to confess, “We have found the Messiah.”
This is the pattern of evangelism that is an inherent and integral part of the Christian faith. In a moment, after the Eucharistic prayer, I will turn around and present to you the body and blood of Christ and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.” Whether it be in a golden chalice or in the face of the poor, when we see Jesus, we are called to joyfully make him known to those around us in word and in deed. Thanks be to God, we aren’t responsible for how they respond. But we are called to be to them, in a sense, the “star of the east” that guided the Wise Men to where the infant redeemer was laid.
On Tuesday, I gave a tour of the church to a group of college students from Baker University taking a class called “Experiencing Sacred Spaces.” Like most tours I give, I had them walk in through the back of the parish hall. As they rounded that corner and beheld St. Mary’s in all its glory, I heard gasps and these comments “How beautiful!” “Wow – I don’t know what to say.” “I’ve never seen a Church so beautiful” and my favorite “This place is heavenly.” The arches in the architecture, the recurring fleur-de-lys symbolism, the saints depicted in the windows, the intricate vestments, the formalized ritual, the amazing gold and silver Eucharistic vessels, the heavenly music – everything here at St. Mary’s is designed to point us to the Lamb that was slain for us, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that will be made manifest to us on this altar in the bread and wine of holy communion.
Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist responded, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that taketh away the sins of the world!” When the celebrant shows the consecrated bread and wine to the people with the same proclamation, the people respond with the words of the Roman Centurion in Matthew chapter 8 when he replies to Jesus’s commitment to come and heal his paralyzed servant in his home: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” We respond to seeing Jesus by acknowledging our unworthiness and asking him to heal us. For we are about to receive him under the “roof” of our mouths and thus welcome him into the very depths of our bodies and souls. This intimate moment when we receive communion passes quickly, with or without an emotional response on our end, and then we are dismissed with the words “God in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And the cycle begins anew. Empowered by the grace we’ve been given in the Sacrament, we go out into the world and proclaim God’s love anew to those we encounter in word and in deed.
Dear friends, don’t be afraid to talk about your faith with others, not to attempt to convert them or get them to believe all the right things, but rather as a natural outpouring of your own encounter with the risen Christ. Keep the eyes and ears of your hearts open and be on the lookout for Jesus throughout your daily lives. As you encounter him, whether it’s in a golden chalice or the face of the poor, respond with joy and excitement and proclaim as John did, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Abingdon Press, 2015, 451.
 1 Cor. 5:7b-8a.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!