Imagine that you own a small flock of sheep. You have to choose one of the lambs, the most beautiful among them, your favorite, in fact. As you lift him, holding him snugly against your chest, you sense his naiveté as he rests calmly in your arms, unaware of your intent. But you know exactly what you are going to do. Step by step you carry him, closer to his death, entering the temple courts, where he will be slaughtered with thousands of lambs for the Passover meal. You do the deed yourself, while a priest holds a bowl beneath your slaughtered lamb to catch the blood flowing out. There are many priests with many bowls, each of silver or gold, standing in a great line, passing the bowls along  until they reach the last priest, who empties each, pouring the blood on the altar. As a sacrifice. For you, your wife, and your children, and for all who will eat the Passover meal with you.
     This is the first time you have had to do this but it will not be the last. You will do it again next year and the year after that. An innocent lamb to take your place, over and over and over.
    Now imagine that some time has passed. You have celebrated many Passovers. There is talk of a great prophet, a man who has lived for many years in the desert and who is not afraid to speak plainly. So you go down to the Jordan River where John is baptizing, and as his thunderous words roll on, piercing your heart, you notice a stranger approaching. He looks like a Galilean. As soon as John lays eyes on the man he begins to shout: “Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world….”
     What can this mean, to call a living man the Lamb of God? It sounds appalling. You remember the cries of the thousands upon thousands of innocent animals slaughtered in the temple courts at Passover, their blood poured out on the altar.  It will be some time before you understand exactly what John is saying.





Originally published March 21, 2011.