Thursday, April 9, 2009
The Mystery of 'The Lamb' and why it is 'Good 'Friday.
THE SACRIFICE OF 'THE LAMB' ON GOOD FRIDAY
'Good Friday', I used to say as a child-what is 'good' about it for heaven's sake? I remember it as a time when there was doom and gloom, a horrific crucifixion story. I did not like the story of poor Jesus being tortured like that and spat on-exactly like poor Aslan when the wicked queen mocks and humiliates him before having him killed. But Aslan knew the 'deep magic' he could not be killed.He put himself in as an innocent to save someone else. The nature of Sacrifice is very old.The idea of the 'Scapegoat'someone who takes the punishment for someone else.
The ancient Druids in Britain too, sacrificed people as well-usually undesirables-in giant wicker men. These sacrifices were as offerings to the great Creator for salvation from starvation or for a better harvest next year.It was to atone because they had displeased their deity.
It was not difficult to persuade the original Druids, who believed in one Deity, who believed in an underworld , the earth where one learnt wisdom and became initiated into mysteries and Heaven, which was the destiny of those who had become enlightened, and their rather cruel idea of human sacrifice, that no more sacrifice was neccessary, not of humans nor animals, because Christ was the Full and Final Sacrifice.This is why it so quickly superceded the Druid religion.
But the idea of the Sacrificed human is here, is the same, except the stripes and scourging ,the blood, the cruel crown of thorns, these are the sins of mankind, put on the back of Jesus , who is then ritually sacrificed, and with him the sins of the World. Imagine the agony of that Load! Imagine the Love which prompted the Sacrifice. Imagine what our gratitude should be! We who can't get much right in our lives are helped in this divine way! And yet Jesus did not come as a Lion to be sacrificed-like C.S.Lewis' 'Aslan' but as a Lamb. The Lamb that has made us Sons and Daughters of the King of Heaven-how good that is! That with death we could be initiated into the heavenly saints, if we call upon his holy Name, believe and act according to the Commandments-not easy in today's world.
Last night I could only watch befoe the Altar of Repose for ten minutes because my family wanted to go to the Supermarket before it closed-but Seeing Father there -all on his own, before the Blessed Sacrament really brought home to me, the fact that Christ had prayed all alone in Gethsemane when the disciples fell asleep.
Today, following the long standing tradition at Abergavenny, and in many other place in Monmouthshire and everywhere else, Christians will accompany the Cross to a High Place, where due honour will be given to the Lord. Catholics in Abergavenny will once again climb the Holy Mountain, the Skirryd, where at the hour of 3, the time of Jesus Sacrifice, legend says St Michael struck the mountain, for in that hour, the Prince of Evil gave up hope of every completely conquering the Earth.
Jesus left himself in the Eucharist on earth with St Peter and the apostles, to teach and guide and serve.He gave us a Way Out of being slaves to ourselves and focused us on the next world
THE VENERATION OF THE HOLY CROSS RITUAL
When I survey the wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died...
My richest gain I count by loss, and pour content on all my pride...
Death is swallowed up in Victory.And it is the Victory and Triumph of the Holy Cross
we celebrate at 3 o'clock, as we sing
Hagios o Theos-Holy is God
Hagios ischyros-Holy and Mighty
Hagios athanatos-Holy and Immortal- Have mercy on us.
I have been an admirer of Dr Scott Hahn's book'The Lamb's Supper' -The Mass as Heaven on Earth. I hope it will be a great revelation and joy to read bits and pieces of it. For the full effect, however, you need to get it and read it yourself. It is the greatest explanation of the book of Revelation I have read.I will carry on with the theme tomorrow.
'Lamb of God'-why Jesus the 'lamb'.
References to lambs are all over the gospels-the sheep at Christmas, 'I am the good shepherd', 'the Lord is my Shepherd' and every Sunday at Mass we sing before we receive the Lord's body
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Dr Scott Hahn writes in his wonderful book 'The Lamb's Supper' :'The phrase that knocked me out was 'Lamb of God' because I knew that this Lamb was Jesus Christ himself.
No one has to tell you that. Perhaps you have sung or recited the words a thousand times....Just as many times, you have seen the priest elevate the broken host and proclaim
'This is the Lamb of God....happy are those who are called to His Supper'. The Lamb is Jesus. This is not news, it's not the kind of thing we gloss over. Jesus is many things after all: He is Lord, God, Saviour, Messiah, King , Priest, Prophet...and LAMB.
Yet if we were really thinking, we wouldn't gloss over that last title.Look again at the list: Lord, God, Saviour, Messiah, King , Priest, Prophet...and LAMB. One of these things is not like the others. The first seven are titles with which we could comfortably address a God - Man. They are titles with dignity, implying wisdom, power and social status. But 'Lamb'Again I ask you to divest yourselves of two thousand years of accumulated symbolic meaning. Pretend for a moment you have never sung the 'Lamb of God''.
ON THE LAMB
the angels and saints sang
Blessing and Honour, Glory and Power be unto Him be unto Him
That sitteth upon the Throne
And unto the LAMB......(Revelations)
Dr Hahn points out that the title is almost comical. Lambs are not on the list of admired animals, not strong, clever, quick or handsome. There are other animals Christ could have been 'Lion of Judah' for example. Lions are the King of the Jungle strong and agile-Dr Hahn points out though that they only appear once in the Book of Revelation.The Lamb dominates and appears 28 times.
'The Lamb rules, occupying heaven's throne.(Rev 22:3) It is the Lamb Who leads hundreds of thousands of men and angels, striking fear in the hearts of the wicked (Rev6:15-16) This last image , the fierce and frightening Lamb, is almost too incongruous to imagine with a straight face'.So what is this great mystery and miracle and what has it to do with Good Friday?
It is John the Baptist who first says 'Behold the Lamb of God' and thenthe title appears almost exclusively in John's Gospel and Revelations.
Jesus is often called 'like the Lamb of God'but never do they dare to call him 'Lamb of God'(John 1:36 and Revelations) Dr Hahn goes on to point out that the Lamb is central to the Mass and to Revelations.If we want to experience the Mass as heaven on Earth we need to know whyhe is called the 'Lamb'.
Dr Hahn in his excellent and readable book looks at explanations and the Jewish history for the background to the mystery.
Lamb always identified with sacrifice in ancient Israel.(cain and Abel-Abel brings lambs to the sacrifice). Noah (Gen 8.20-21) Abraham , Jacob and others. The Jewish fathers were always making offerings and building altars and sometimes poured sacrificial offerings of wine over them .
Melchisidech is the first priest mentioned in the Bible and many Christians have seen in him a forsadowing of Christ. He was a priest and king-a king of Salem a land that later became 'Jeru-salem' - meaning 'City of Peace'. JEsus would one day be King of the New Jerusalem and like Melchisidech-'King of Peace'.
Here Dr Hahn says
'Finally Melchisidech's sacrifice was extraordinary-it involved no animals. He offered bread and wine, as Jesus did at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist. Melchisidech's sacrifice ended with a blessing on Abraham'.(page 17)
NEAR SACRIFICE OF ISAAC
The next point made is about the Sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham's most dearly loved son. God asks Abraham to sacrifice him to test his obedience. When it appears Abraham is going to obey, God realises Abraham's faith and stops it.The words of Abraham to Isaac are telling: When Isaac asks who will be the offering, Abraham says:'God will provide Himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son '(v8)Abraham's descendants are made a mighty nation.God says:
By myself I have sworn...because you....have not witheld your son....I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven.....and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves'.(Gen 22:16-17) 'That was God's IOU.It was Israel's Life INsurance policy . In the desert at Mount Sinai when the Chosen People earned death by worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses invoked God's covenant oath to Abraham in order to save them from divine wrath. (Ex 32:13-14)(DR Hahn)
Later Christians looked on this incident as a profound allegory for sacrificing his only son on the cross.As Paul later mentions of the incident 'that in Christ Jesusm the blessing of Abraham might come upon the gentiles (non Jews).(Gal 3:14 and Gen 22:16-18)
This is a central part of Israels' worship.The Egyptian overseers in Exodus complain the Israelites spend too much time sacrificing animals...when Moses makes his appeal to Pharoah to let the people go, he demand the right to sacrifice. So why animals?
Man gave back to God what was His because 'the earth is the Lords.'
An act of thanksgiving.We can only give bakc what we have received.
Solomnly sealing an oath a covenant before God.
Act of renunciation and sorrow for sins.Person sacrificing knew he deserved death fo sins and offered the animals life in exchange for his own.
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, for the last plague, God asked the people to take an unblemished lamb without broken bones, kill it and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost. That night, Israelites were to eat the Lamb. If they did, their first born would be spared. If they didn't their firstorn would die with all the others. The sacrificial lamb died as a ransom, in place of the first born of the household. The Passover was a redemption-a 'buying back'.They had to recreate this passover every year.
JERU-SALEM AS A ROYAL CAPITAL
When the Temple was built about 960 BC , the sacrifices took place in a royal setting. Every day, the priests offered two lambs in the morning and in the evening to atone for the sins of the nation and there were many private offerings too.The High Priest could only enter the 'Holy of Holies' (sacred space where God is) once a year, because he too was a sinner.The Temple was built on the place where Melchisidech had offered bread and wine, and where Abraham had offered his child and where God had sworn an oath to save all nations.Each year at the Passover two and a half million pilgrims came to Jerusalem from all over the known world came there. Now they come to the Wailing Wall, an old remnant of the Temple, I believe.
Jesus obeyed the sacrifice laws
Jesus celebrated the Passover every year in Jerusalem and ate the sacrificed lamb-first with his family, then with the Apostles.The Passover as Dr Hahn says' was central to his Mission', a definitive moment. Jesus isthe Lamb. When Jesus stood before Pilate. John notes it was the 'day of the preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour when the priests were beginning to slaughter thePassover lambs. This, then, is the moment of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
John , in speaking of the garment of Jesus at the time of the crucifixion, John uses the precise term for the vestments the High Priest wore when he offered sacrifices such as the Passover Lamb.
John records that none of his bones were broken-(Just as above at the old passover in Egypt.)Jesus was a Worthy Offering a perfect fulfilment.
Jesus was given sour wine from a sponge on a hyssop branch The hyssop was the tree used by the Jews for the sprinkling of the Lamb's blood. This moment marked the beginning , when Jesus suffered on the Cross of the new and perfect redemption. Then Jesus cried out :
'It is finished!'
Thanks be to God.
(to be continued)
Quotes and materials from Dr Scott Hahn's book
The Lamb's Supper2007 Darton, Longman and Todd