Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord
(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)
We tend to think of lambs as vulnerable animals. Do you remember watching cartoons in which the wolf seeing a lamb imagines lamb chops? But there is at least one instance when the lamb is strong enough to protect all his subjects from harm. In the Book of Revelation the Lamb of God sits on the throne surrounded by those he has saved. The Passion of St. John which we just heard features this same lamb in a subtle but telling way.
At the beginning of the Gospel John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).” He has in mind, of course, Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross to atone for human sin. The Passion account does not speak directly of Jesus as the lamb but gives at least three hints that he is the Passover lamb of the Old Testament tradition that needed to be sacrificed for human freedom from the bondage of sin. In the first place, Jesus is said to be crucified at noon on the preparation day for the Passover, the exact time when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple (19:14). Then while Jesus is hanging on the cross, the people “put a sponge soaked in wine on a spring of hyssop…up to (Jesus’) mouth (19:29).” The hyssop is a slender plant that could not possibly bear the weight of a soaked sponge. It is used here to remind the reader of the hyssop that the Israelites used to sprinkle their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb. The blood saved them from the Angel of Death who destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians when the Israelites were fleeing captivity (Ex 12:22). The last hint of Jesus as the Lamb of God comes as Jesus dies on the cross. A soldier comes to break his legs so that he can no longer support breathing. The text says that the soldier, seeing that Jesus had died, sticks a lance in his side perhaps to save himself the trouble of breaking a large bone (19:36). In any case, no bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken (Ex 12:46).
Was it necessary for Jesus to be sacrificed as a lamb to free us from sin? we may want to ask. And, could God have forgiven us our sins without the cross? No, it was not absolutely necessary and, yes, God might have forgiven our sins without Jesus’ bloody death. However, without knowing the terrible price that Jesus had to pay for our salvation, we would be less inclined to follow his ways. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross gives us both courage and example to give of ourselves for the love of God and the good of others.