The title, Lamb of God, is too familiar to us and deserves deeper exploration. As often as we hear it used, referring to Christ and His Paschal Mystery, it may surprise you that it appears only once! in the Bible—in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist is not repeating an Old Testament phrase but he is, in three simple words, summarizing the prophetic words of Isaiah who foretold that the Messiah would suffer greatly in silence, like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is. 53:7) This phrase, while common to us in our liturgical language, would have landed on the Jewish ear with wonderment and awe.
Sheep were an integral part of life. They provided wool for clothing and food for sustenance but it was the lamb that took on a distinct meaning when God freed His people from Egyptian slavery. On that first Passover night, the lamb was the centerpiece of a meal filled with meaningful rituals, as instructed by God. It had to be without blemish or broken bones; it had to be consumed in its entirety, nothing left. If the family were not large enough to eat the entire lamb, they could share with another family. God also told Moses that this ritualistic meal was to be an annual commemoration.
John’s reference to Christ as a lamb would have piqued interest and curiosity in his listeners’ ears but it would not be understood until Jesus fulfilled His mission during the week of their annual Passover celebration—our Holy Week.
Jesus was born without sin, unblemished, and when the Roman soldiers came to break the leg bones of Jesus and the two men crucified with Him, they saw that He was already dead. They did not break His legs but pierced His side with a lance, instead. Thus, He became for us the sacrificial lamb, one without blemish or broken bones. John’s original title for Christ links Old Testament prophecies with our redemption.
When God spoke to Moses about that first Passover meal, He told them they were to prepare and eat the meal on the 14th day of the month but, four days earlier, on the 10th day, they had to procure their unblemished lamb. During Holy Week, we commemorate the Last Supper, Jesus’ final Passover, on Holy Thursday. On that evening, He begins His redemptive sacrifice that would fulfill John’s prophetic designation. Now, count backwards four days to Palm Sunday. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, see how we procure our Lamb of God, who would become for us, the ultimate sacrifice, that would liberate us from our slavery to sin.