The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
I learnt this title of Jesus very early on in my life as a Christian – probably before I associated it with this Scriptural passage. As an altar server I’d not only hear the phrase “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us” at every Sunday mass I attended but also at the weekday masses where I’d serve during the school holidays. The liturgical sequence, is used in many churches before the distribution of Holy Communion. We have it in Rejoice and Sing at 14, 15 and 16 and it’s in the Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary 4 at 653. For me, therefore, it’s a title I associate with the reception of Holy Communion.
The editor of John’s Gospel probably associated the title with Jesus’ sacrificial death. Mute as lamb before its shearers Jesus didn’t argue with Pilate, or Herod, and accepted all that was to follow. Calvin argued that before all eternity Jesus chose to offer himself for our sins and so this title has something to do with his death on the Cross.
In Revelation, however, there are 29 references to a Lion like Lamb that is slain but stands. The writer here clearly is associating the Lamb with the resurrected Christ.
So this title has layers of meaning – Jesus who accepted his unjust trial, torture and death knowing that in doing so he broke the power of evil; the risen Christ who defeated death and sin; the Christ who gathers us to himself in bread and wine when we share in Communion together.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland.