“Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us," so we sing each Sunday — if we are blessed to worship at a church that celebrates the Lord's Supper each Lord's day.
The words echo John the Baptist's ecstasy when first he saw Jesus (John 1:29, 36). The image is old and varied. Lambs are innocent, gentle, meek, pure, humble. The Israelites smeared lamb's blood on their doorposts in Egypt as protection from God's judgment on their oppressors (Exodus 12:1-13). They sacrificed lambs in the temple each day for sin.
God's servant, suffering for the sake of others, is "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" for "sheep gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6-7). Lambs also symbolize the fulfillment God promises for all creation when wolf and lamb will live together in peace (Isaiah 11:6).
During Holy Week we meditate on Jesus, the Lamb of God. This image points to nothing if not God's utter humility and tender desire to save a lost and wandering world.
Christians have long argued about how Jesus, the lamb, gains forgiveness and life for the world through the sacrifice of the cross. No theory has yet captured one-tenth the holy mystery. Perhaps the best we can do is sing the mystery, taking to heart that the lamb doesn't just take away the sin of Christians but the sin of the world.
Can we see the world and every human soul that way — forgiven, already, now? Maybe if we act like we believe what we sing, others will too.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers