The Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan was one of the most renowned musicians of the twentieth century. He spent 35 years of his career as principal conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1985, he was invited to direct Mozart’s Coronation Massduring Mass with Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When it came to part of the Mass we call the Agnus Dei, or the Lamb of God, just before communion,Karajan became visibly emotional as he conducted the orchestra.He was so overcome with the beauty of the piece,that as the words of the prayer “Lamb of God, have mercy on us, Lamb of God, grant us peace” were sung over and over again,tears ran down Karajan’s face. Mozart had captured something powerful in this piece that went beyond even his own human brilliance as a composer…What’s important to remember is that Mozart was raised by very devout catholic parents. So the words of the prayers at Mass would have been well known to him. And all through his life, he maintained a deep personal faith in Christ. So he knew the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And his deep personal faith in Jesus Christ contributed in no small way to the beauty of his music. His music has in turn touched the hearts of so many people down through the centuries and even brought them closer to God…
In the Gospel today, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and before even speaking to Jesus, John instinctively recognizes who he is. And his conviction that Jesus is the Son of God doesn’t come about from any analyzing or questioning…it’s a very visceral gut reaction. There is simply no doubt in his mind…And immediately John shifts all the attention away from himself focuses on Christ. “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…”There’s hardly a greater declaration of faith in Jesus anywhere else in the New Testament! John instantly recognises Jesus for who he is. He is the lamb of God, the one who will take the burden of broken humanity on himself and offer himself for us back to the Father. But what’s just as important as John’s own belief is that he makes sure that nobody else is left wondering about Jesus’ identity. “Behold” is a very strong word. Its an order, really. It commands us to stop and to take note.It calls for wonder and amazement.So John sees. He believes. And he proclaims Jesus as Lord. And he orders us to take note of Jesus and to give him the reverence he deserves as the lamb of God.
Its interesting that John refers to Jesus as a lamb. Straight away we think of Jesus as the innocent lamb who will be sacrificed like lambs were sacrificed all the time in the Temple. But the Aramaic word for lamb which is “talyā” also means “servant” or “slave”. By calling Jesus God’s servant, John knows exactly what he is doing. He’s saying that not only is Jesus the lamb of God, but that he is in fact the “servant” of God whom all the prophets of the Old Testament predicted would come as saviour. In today’s encounter between John and Jesus then, the Old and New Covenants are sealed and God reveals himself in the person of his Son. And that encounter challenges each us this morning.Its one thing to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. But the Gospel is always challenging us to go further…to move out of a comfortable “just Jesus and me” way of believing, and be willing to proclaim Jesus as Lord in the ordinary, everyday circumstances of our lives, so that like John, our Christian witness leaves nobody we come in contact with under any illusion about who Christ is,and the transforming effect his love can have on each of our lives.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope;Where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek;To be consoled as to console;To be understood as to understand;To be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.