The readings for Epiphany 2A in the Revised Common Lectionary are Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, and John 1:29-42
Here’s a playlist for Epiphany 2A – Come And See. It includes songs from The Mountain Goats, A Tribe Called Quest, The Chainsmokers & Kygo, Ben E. King, Sam Cooke, Prince, Maren Morris, Hank Williams, Al Green, and more… Happy Listening!
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Meno the Lamb
This is a huge Gospel text with a number of overlapping themes. The theme in this text I want to address today is naming. I think we might all agree that if we were to rank the claims made in the Gospels, then the naming of Jesus by John as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is a pretty important statement.
There is something really important that I want to lean into here from Pastor Vera’s sermon last week before we learn more about the context of this reading and John’s Gospel. I found this so important that I quickly pulled out my phone in the middle of Pastor Vera’s sermon last Sunday and typed these six words into a message to myself: Vocation as invitation / Baptism as invitation. Part of what I found so powerful was the message that “vocation and identity are linked… we are all given the responsibility to bless and reconcile the world, as Jesus did… with the exception of having to die on the cross as Jesus did, we are still called to die to self absorption… and we cannot escape it.” Pastor Vera, like John in this weeks reading, is naming something really important. Just as our vocations and identities are linked in our baptisms. Jesus’ vocation of taking away the sin of the world is linked to his identity as Christ and the second member of the Trinity.
I will quickly reference here two important pieces to understanding the whole of the Gospel of John. First, this Gospel writer’s favorite word in Greek is “μένω”. Meno is utilized five times in todays reading alone, a fact that is disguised in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible because in our english version meno is translated as “remained, remain, and staying”. Like many good writers John is utilizing repetition to get a main point across. The way we get to know Jesus is by remaining, staying, and abiding with Jesus. “What it means to be a disciple of Jesus, has little to do with correct understanding or identification of his titles, but rather to be in relationship with Jesus.” (Karoline Lewis, John, 31)
The second piece of importance is that this is the first time the word “sin” is utilized in John’s gospel. Karoline Lewis, professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, writes in her commentary on John that “The concept of sin has a very distinct theological meaning for the fourth evangelist. Sin is not a moral category, a way to designate unlawful or iniquitous behavior; sin functions as a synonym for not being in relationship with God. …The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, therefore, takes away any separation from God and makes it possible for all to be in the same kind of relationship with God that Jesus has with the Father… the significance of the term ‘Lamb of God’ who takes away the sin of the world does not have to be located solely in the crucifixion… The death of Jesus is not the moment of ‘atonement,’ so to speak. It is the life of Jesus that makes that relationship possible” (28-29).
I get really intrigued by some of the ways in which the writers of scripture chose their words and how the Holy Spirit is present in these choices. μένω is utilized 120 times in the Greek source texts of scripture and over 50 of these times occur in the Gospel and epistles of John. By comparison the word translated as sin, ἁμαρτίαν (ha-mar-ati-a) is only utilized 11 times in the four New Testament books that bear John’s name. The deepest learning I take from this use of language is that abiding with Christ is THE corrective. Sin, which is our selfish desire to go our own way, be our own God, and maintain a separation from the One True God and God’s creation is overcome through abiding with the incarnate Christ. Moreover, as a Lutheran Christian I cannot state strongly enough, that our abiding with Christ does not begin with our action, but it is the Spirit of Christ at work in us and the world which nudges us to respond to the vocational and baptismal invitation to “come and see.” It’s almost as if John is trying to tell us something important about the nature of God and God’s presence in the world, that the abiding grace of God is more original than sin.
For most of my adult life I’ve struggled with a theology which is seemingly implied in John’s naming of Jesus. I find this theology foreign to both the witness of the Holy Spirit in my life and that same Spirit in scripture. It’s never felt right to me that God is angry and that the only way to appease God’s wrathful anger is through a blood-sacrifice. A more generous take on what is often broadly called substitutionary atonement theory argues that Christ, by God’s own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of sinners, thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive sin.
These theories are often considered to be hallmarks of Evangelical Christianity. This past Tuesday a sibling in Christ at an area pastor’s scripture study framed John’s declaration of Jesus as the Lamb of God this way: that God offers up God-self as the sacrifice we demand. And while this comes closer to where I am, and maybe where you find yourself today as you consider the awesome naming of Jesus made by John in scripture, these theories ultimately place the emphasis on the death of Jesus ahead of his life. What if the importance of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is located more fully in the whole life, which includes the Lamb’s dying and rising again? What if putting an emphasis on life without death or death being traded for life is a profound adventure in missing the point of wholly abiding with Jesus?
This last week in the adult forum we looked at the similarities and differences between the various Gospel accounts of Jesus crucifixion. By this point you likely won’t be surprised that in the Gospel of John (and only in the Gospel of John) do we have a narrative which tells us that the women in Jesus life and the disciple whom Jesus loved were standing near the cross. In the other Gospel accounts people stand at a distance, but in the Gospel of John, even at the crucifixion, these few disciples abide with the Lamb who heals our separation from God and one another.
What if there’s a third way to see the truth of John’s Gospel which is less about a theory of trading a death for a life, or ignoring the death as immature religion, than it is about life and death together in a deep and eternal mystery? Jesus has just made an invitation to his first disciples and to us in this weeks text. The invitation is to see God in the midst of this moment and every moment. In Jesus baptism the Spirit abides (yes, the Greek word here too is meno); his identity as the Lamb and his vocation as the one who heals the breach of sin are linked. And we too are linked to Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism. Not only linked in baptism, but linked too in this meal to which all are invited to come and see and abide. Come let us gather and abide in Christ who has called us by name.