“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Those words were spoken over 2,000 years ago by John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming toward him. It seems rather ironic, in light of his bold declaration, that John should later say, “I did not know Him.” It may well be that, when Jesus presented Himself to be baptized, that John had some recognition of his cousin, but did not fully grasp who He was. After seeing the Spirit come down from heaven and remain with Jesus, John knew there was something more going on. John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God.
The lamb figured very prominently in the religious life of the Jewish people. Each day, in the morning and the evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Temple as a sin offering. Of course, there was also the Paschal Lamb. On the eve of their exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When the Angel of Death moved across Egypt, striking down the first-born of the Egyptians, the homes of the Hebrews were passed over.
The connection between these Old Testament types is unmistakable. It was the blood of a lamb that brought deliverance and salvation to the Hebrews. It is the blood of the Lamb of God that brings delivery and salvation from sin to the whole world.
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
Today, those words are repeated in the sacred liturgy as the priest elevates the Eucharist. Their meaning and significance has not changed. John spoke them when Our Lord was right there in front of him. He is pointing out the Lamb of God right there in the midst of the people. We boldly speak those words today because we believe that Christ is truly present in our midst in the Eucharist and that, by means of this Blessed Sacrament, He offers a remedy for sins.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in holy Communion is ‘given up for us,’ and the blood we drink ‘shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.’ For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins. … As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us, Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him” (No. 1393-94).
As a priest, I can truly say there is something awesome about being able to elevate the sacred host and repeat the words of the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”
It is a wake up call to all of us. The Lamb of God is here with us to deliver us from sin. Happy, indeed, are all those called to this life-giving, holy Communion.