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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 2 - The Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)

"Agnus Dei, que tollis pecatta mundi, miserere nobis..." In the traditional Anglo-Catholic Mass based on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, this classic petition of the Church is often recited or sung just before the Eucharist is distributed, and it reaffirms why we are Christians in the first place - Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed of His own volition that we might have eternal life.  The traditional Latin chant of this beautiful prayer is actually one of my favorite hymns, and although the English translation we use in our Anglican tradition is not quite as poetic as the Latin translation used by the traditional Roman Catholic Mass, it still conveys this same truth.  As we continue Dr. Hahn's text on this, we need to explore why, of all things, was one of the titles of Jesus the "Lamb?"  And, we begin this part of the study by discussing that.

In the book of Revelation alone, Jesus is called "the Lamb" 28 times, and this reference to Jesus is almost exclusively in Revelation and in St. John's Gospel.  There is an acilliary debate about authorship here, as some believe that St. John the Apostle, who wrote the Gospel, is a different person from the author of Revelation, whom some believe to be a man by the name of St. John the Elder.  This latter figure is cited because he was traditionally thought to have been a youth when Christ walked the earth, and knew the Lord personally - the passage in Scripture, for instance, where it says that this John laid his head upon the breast of Christ (John 13:23,25) at the Last Supper referred to a young St. John the Elder rather than St. John the Apostle.  Although an interesting debate, that discussion lies outside the scope of this study because the authorship of Revelation is not the focus here.  My Orthodox Study Bible though, in its introductory notes on Revelation on page 1706, maintains the historic position that John the Elder and John the Apostle (the Apostle was called "The Elder" in his later years) were the same person, and being this is the historic view of the Church, that is what this study will also maintain.  Also, the fact that the title "Lamb" is used of Christ in both the Gospel of John and Revelation suggests common authorship as well, and it establishes a continuity of documentation.

Jesus as the Lamb of God is a central tenet of both the book of Revelation and the Mass, and as such, we know who He is.  However, we also need to know what the Lamb is, as well as why we call Him that.  Therefore, the focus of that part of our study addresses these issues.

Dr. Hahn utilizes two sacrifices of significance from the Old Testament to give a sort of foundation to this whole image of Jesus as the Lamb, and the first we find in Genesis 14:18-20.  In that passage, an enigmatic figure by the name of Melchizedek makes his appearance in the narrative, and the first thing is to talk about the etymology of this guy's name, because it bears some significance on the story.  Melchizedek is one of those people whose identity has been disputed by theologians for centuries, and Scripture doesn't directly say exactly who he was.  One tradition I recall reading about identified Melchizedek with Noah's son Shem, and the reasoning behind this was that at the time of Abraham, Shem was still very much alive although over 600 years old.  It was not uncommon in those days - although our own rationalistic mentality today cannot fathom it - for people to live to advanced ages, and therefore I personally believe Shem did know Abraham and was around at that time.  However, whether or not he was the same as the Biblical Melchizedek is not something I would personally have a position on, although it is worth exploring.  The important thing about Melchizedek though was that the Church has historically seen him as as foreshadow of Jesus. and the key to that is in his name.  The name Melchizedek may well be a title as well, and it comprises two Semitic words (malka "king" + tzedekha "righteous") and he was also the ruler/priest of a place called Salem (from shalom = "peace"), which many Biblical scholars and theologians over the centuries maintained was the early site of where Jerusalem now stands.  If you put all that name together, what you then get is this - "Righteous King of Peace."  Compare that now with Isaiah 9:6, which many of you know from around Christmas when performances of Handel's beautiful masterpiece The Messiah basically bring these Scriptures to life for us - one of the titles given to Jesus as revealed to the prophet Isaiah was "Prince of Peace."   As we read on in the Genesis passage, we see that Melchizedek offers a sacrifice, but it involved no animals!  In verse 18, it says that Melchizedek was "a priest of the God Most High," and that after Abraham engaged the king of Elam in a battle to rescue Lot, who was taken captive in a battle between Chedorlaomer the king of the Elamites and an alliance of cities led by the king of Sodom, where Lot lived.  Abraham allied himself with the king of Sodom in this battle to rescue and liberate Lot from captivity, and when he did so Melchizedek came out to meet him and offered a sacrifice of bread and wine (v. 18).  The reason this is seen by the Church as a foreshadowing of Christ is because Melchizedek's priesthood typified Jesus' role as High Priest, who gives Himself to His faithful in the Eucharist.  This sacrifice is seen as a "superior order," and salvation always comes through that means.  Therefore, from very early on in the Old Testament, we see the Eucharist established, although it was not fulfilled until Christ instituted it later at the Last Supper.

The second sacrifice of significance is found in Genesis 22, the passage dealing with Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac.  In verse 2 of the chapter, God Himself commands Abraham as a test of his faithfulness to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, on Mount Moriah.  This must have really baffled Abraham, as it would any loving father, but more was at stake here - I mean, after all, God had called Abraham to be "the father of many nations," and that Isaac, who was actually born to his nonagenarian wife Sarah, would be who would progenate that line through his seed.  So, it made no sense whatsoever why God would ask Abraham to do this.  But, the why is not what is important to the story, but rather the fact that Abraham, despite any confusion he may have had about what on earth was going on, obeyed, and that was what God was looking for!  Now, as for Moriah - where was that??   In 2 Chronicles 3:1, it is identified with the Temple Mount, and therefore with the Law - sacrifice was the rule and norm for atonement, as we will discuss briefly.  In earliest traditions of the Church, it has been proposed that the two mounts of Jerusalem (Calvary and Zion/Moriah) where much of the drama of Christ's redemptive plan would be carried out were also the center of the original Garden of Eden, and on those two mounts sat two trees - the Tree of Life is identified with the hill of death (Calvary) and the Tree of Knowledge is identified with the hill that embodied Mosaic law (Zion/Moriah).  Mount Moriah, you will also note, is identified as well with Mount Zion, as both represent the future Temple Mount.  Going back to the Melchizedek narrative, it is also said that he offered his sacrifice in the same place.  This then gives a lot of allegorical similarities to the Passion of our Lord - Isaac was a faithful father's (Abraham) only beloved son (note that Ishmael is older, but the custom didn't allow for Ishmael to be a legitimate heir of Abraham, which is why he isn't mentioned in this narrative), and part of the journey to the place of sacrifice was that Isaac had to carry the wood that he would be offered on up the hill himself.  Jesus, too, was God's only beloved son (John 3:16), and also had to carry the wood He was sacrificed on (the Cross) to the place of the sacrifice.  Any rate, Isaac was obviously a bright child, because he had a good father that taught him well, and one thing we note from Scripture is that Isaac was perceptive enough to understand that in order to do this, it was important to have the sacrificial animal (!).  So, Isaac asks his father, "My Father, look - the fire and the firewood, but where is the sheep for a burnt offering?" (Genesis 22:7, NKJV).  Abraham by this time is probably thinking to himself, "Oy!!!" but he answers judiciously, "My son, God will provide for himself the sheep for a whole burnt offering" (22:8. NKJV).  Now, here is where it gets really interesting!  Dr. Hahn points out in his book on 18 that there was not any punctuation in the original Hebrew translation of this verse, and he proposes an alternate reading of verse 8 that looks like this - "God will provide Himself, the Lamb, for a burnt offering."  Whoa!!!!!!!  Looking at it from that angle, we see a profound spiritual truth communicated here that gives us a Messianic prophecy of hope in the most unlikely of passages in Scripture, and of course, as we read on, God did provide a ram with its horns tangled in thorns nearby, and of course Isaac was spared.  It was a scary but valuable lesson for Abraham of the redemption God was going to bring to humanity via Himself.   And, this correlates with Galatians 3:14 - "that in Christ the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles."  

Of course, no study of the Old Testament typologies of the Eucharist would be complete without of course mentioning the Passover.  Animal sacrifice of course was a very big part of worship in the ancient world, and in ancient Israel this was no exception - the only difference was that God Himself instituted the system via Moses on the Mount.  The animal sacrifice represented, first of all, the recognition of God's sovereignty over creation (note Psalm 24;1).  It also represented an act of thanksgiving (eucaristw in Greek or tauditho in both Hebrew and Aramaic), which signified we could only give back what we ourselves have received.  Sacrifice also signified a solemnly sealed agreement/oath, otherwise called a covenant.  And, it also could signify an act of penance - the animal's life is offered in our place.   The pivotal sacrifice of the whole OT is without doubt the Passover, and what marked the Passover was that it was to be celebrated with an unblemished lamb without broken bones.  And, this is where it really gets interesting!  In the traditional way of preparing the lamb, it was dressed and tied to a cruciform spit, and then dropped into the ground into a pit of hot coals where it was roasted.  The spit is of interest - cruciform!  A long pole secured the lamb down its length, and then its two front limbs were spread and secured with another pole which were tied where the poles intersected, creating a cross.  Today in Israel, the 1000-strong remnant of the Samaritan community still roast their Passover lamb in this way, as this picture shows:

The imagery here is amazing - even in the Old Testament, we see the foreshadow of Christ's Atonement in the Passover meal, and it is also interesting that this lamb was prepared as both an act of redemption as well as an act of consecration.   The Passover, of course, was instituted many years before the Temple was built, but it laid the foundation of the Temple as a pivotal place for the sacrifice to be offered. When the Temple was constructed during the reign of King Solomon, 2 lambs were sacrificed every day - one in the morning and one in the evening normally.  They were offered for atonement for the collective sins of the nation.  In the Temple therefore at that point, we see the simmering together of all strains of sacrifice from previous generations, and the Temple embodied the ceremonial and religious law of the people of Israel.  However, the offering of an external sacrifice was not enough, as God demanded an interior submission and sacrifice of ourselves as well - the external, therefore, had to reflect an internal work.  The elements of this internal sacrifice are noted as a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17) and genuine love and knowledge (Hosea 6;6).  It would be this interior attitude of sacrifice that Jesus would make central to His mission as it related to the Passover. 

Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb (John 19:14), and like the literal Passover lambs from the time the practice was instituted under Moses' leadership, not one bone was broken in Jesus' body when He was offered up on the Cross (John 19:36, referencing Exodus 12:46).  Onlookers seeing Jesus suffering offered Him sour wine from a sponge on a hyssop branch.  Now, a little discussion about that for a bir.  Many translations of the Bible render this "sour wine" to mean vinegar, but upon looking up the culinary practices of the region, it was more than likely the sour semi-fermented juice of unripe grapes that is called husroum, which is also known by its more common French name verjus.  I actually use this in cooking myself today, as I have a natural hatred and aversion to vinegar and it provides the acidic balance to my own cooking that frees dependance on vinegar for anything.  This husroum was, as recorded in Scripture, mixed with a substance called "gall" in Matthew 27:34 (prophetically referenced as well in Psalm 69:21) that more than likely had some narcotic property that eased the pain of the crucifixion processes - some theorize it came from a bitter melon called a colocynth, which does have medicinal qualities of pain relief as well as disinfective properties, but this probably would warrant more research.  But, the sour wine/gall elixir again is not necessarily the focus, but rather the hyssop that was used to administer it to Jesus on a sponge  In Exodus 12:22, God prescribed to Moses that the blood of the Passover lamb was to be applied to the doors of the homes of the Hebrews with a branch of hyssop, and in another place, it was also used to purge and purify (Psalm 51:7).  The message here is that the Body and Blood of Christ, therefore, also purge and purify us of sin as the hyssop did, and that a yielded, sanctified vessel (a priest?) was responsible for distributing the Blood to others.  So in essence, the hyssop is an allegory of the priesthood too.

It is also important to understand that Jesus is both Priest and victim (Luke 22:19-20), and therefore we proclaim Jesus as Agnus Dei because only a sacrificial lamb fits the divine pattern established for millenia of our salvation. 

So, what does this mean for us today?  First, our Passover Lamb is unleavened bread (the Body of Christ, instituted Himself), and our "feast" is the Mass (I Corinthians 5:7-8).  Also, the old covenant sacrifices make sense when we see them in lieu of preparation for the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  And, it is not enough that Christ bled and died for our sake, but we need to accept that He did so - again, as in the OT, an outward expression needs an inward one for it to be effective. We therefore accept in our partaking of the Lamb in the sacrament of the Eucharist (note John 6:54).

Man has this primal need to worship God, and worship is primarily an act that consists of several elements - praise, atonement, self-giving, covenant affirmation, and thanksgiving.  Our life is therefore surrendered in order to be transformed and shared with others as a witness of Christ to others.  Today unfortunately, there is a problem with much of what passes as "worship" in many churches of differing traditions and denominations.  I was listening to some DVDs of a Southern Baptist pastor in Las Vegas, Billy Crone, that dealt with the subject of the "Rise of Apostasy in the Last Days," and what he correctly noted is that there are four big manifestations of this apostasy - greed, worldliness, liberalism, and outright occultism, as embodied in many popular religious fads.  Greed is most often personified in the teachings of "Word of Faith" (or more appropriately, "blab-it-and-grab-it") televangelists we see in TV way too often.  Many of these preachers teach selfish motives for following Christ - if you follow Christ, according to these people, you will get money, fancy cars, etc.  Problem is, if that were true, you should be seeing the parking lots where these preachers fill auditoriums filled with Rolls Royces and Jags, but they are not.  The worldliness factor is embodied in the so-called "Church Growth" movements of the past 20 or so years, and also this new phenomenon called "Emergent Christianity."   These type of groups often say that numbers are important, and change brings numbers - therefore, let's not talk about those "nasty" subjects of sin, repentance, hell, etc. - God forbid you chase people off with that!  Liberal "Christianity" takes this even further, with things such as the heresies of "liberation theology," "Gay Christianity," and even some pretty bizarre stuff such as "nudist churches," "Christian polygamy," "pole-dancing for Jesus." "Porn Sundays" at some churches, and even the redefinition of the classic definition of "eunuch" to mean a gay man rather than a castrated man.  These things all have one thing in common - they are about how the person feels, or what the person wants, and have little to do with worshipping God or serving His Son, Jesus Christ.  These things ask nothing of the supposed "worshipper" and instead cater to fleshly lusts and crazy fads that have little (or more often nothing) to do with the teachings of the Church.  These things are blasphemous, and they are indicative of the last-days apostasy that the Apostle Paul warned in several of his epistles would occur.  And, as Pastor Crone very powerfully points out in his exposing this fluff, Jesus didn't come to suffer, die, and go through what He did just so some ding-dong in skinny jeans can get up there on a stage with a rock band and tell people it is all about their self-esteem!  The Church is not a motivational seminar:   it is the Bride of Christ, and as such Jesus Christ is the focus and center of our worship, adoration, and fellowship.  If Jesus is not central, then what you are attending is not a church, and if you are concerned about your eternal soul, you need to get out of there fast!  Worship without sacrifice is unfortunately the absurdity of the modern (or postmodern - same difference!) age, and as Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann so eloquently put it in his book For The Life of the World (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1963) secularism is the absence of man as a worshipping being  - if you serve self and its selfish passions and desires, you are not worshipping God, despite whatever name you call it.  Fr. Schmemann also notes on page 37 of his book that the Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption, and gift of heaven, because (on page 43) Jesus is our Bread (of Life) and His life was totally, absolutely eucharistic.  Therefore, as CAC Apostle John Cardale noted in his extensive study Readings Upon the Liturgy (London: George Barclay, 1848) when approaching the Eucharist we must humbly acknowledge our unworthiness - self-esteem means little when we are in the holy presence of God - and pray that we may not bring judgment upon ourselves by partaking unworthily (pp. 193-194).  And, that is why before we even partake of the Eucharist, the traditional Anglican Mass contains in its "Prayer of Invocation" the priest prays this phrase: "And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching Thee , that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him."  Note the focus - on Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God offered for the sins of the world, and worthy of our adoration and worship.  There is no room for self at the altar of the Lord, but the focus is Him - that is why faulty fads and false doctrines are anathema to those who humbly and sincerely embrace the true faith of the Church.  If we understand that, and therefore humbly and with a penitent heart approach the Throne of grace, we then receive the Eucharist worthily - we decrease, in other words, and Christ increases.  And, that concludes this lesson, but we will pick up next time with a short history lesson about the Eucharist and how it developed from the early Church to today.  God bless until next time.