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Good Friday 2020: The Lamb Who Is Slain

Written by The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, posted on Friday, April 10, 2020

Sun coming through stained glass window in cathedralHere is a bit of a brain-teaser for Good Friday. If humanity had never sinned, and there had been no temptation and eventual Fall, would Jesus still have come – and died for us?

Brain-orthodoxy says ‘no’. Heartfelt-theology says ‘yes’. 

Because God, in Christ, chose to become one of us, live amongst us, make his home with us, so we might make our home with him for eternity. His suffering and death – and resurrection – are what make this possible, and plausible.

There's a very famous oil painting of the slain lamb "Agnus Dei", and it hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art and was created by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664). He is known primarily for his still-life work and religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs.

The lamb is trussed up, ready for slaughter. It is passive, resigned. There is no escape.

The image of Jesus as a Lamb pervades our central liturgy, the Eucharist. The sacrament centres on a meal (of bread and wine), and gives thanks for the Lamb of God who not only ‘takes away the sins of the world’, but will one day call us all to a supper.

A picture of a dead sheep is not a particularly compelling image. But perhaps that is the point. We are not drawn to dead animals – we pass by on the other side of the road or footpath, giving them a wide berth. 

They do not fascinate; they repel. Yet this is why the paradox of the slain lamb is at the heart of the darkness of Good Friday.

Studdert Kennedy captured it well in his poem ‘Indifference’ (1947):

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed him by,

They never hurt a hair of him, they simply let him die;

For men had grown more tender, and they would not give him pain,

They only just passed down the street, they left him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’,

And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched him through and through;

The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,

And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

So what of Good Friday this year, and the presence of God in our lives as we continue to journey in these demanding days? One of my colleagues points out that the most important and underrated word in the New Testament is “with”. God is with us. 

The Gospel of John suggests that one of the key words or ideas to help us understand the ministry of Jesus is that of ‘abiding’. To abide means to ‘wait patiently with’. God has abided with us. He came to us in ordinary life, and he has sat with us, eaten with us, walked with us, and lived amongst us. And died like us. In fact, died desolate and alone. (All but a few kept their social distance from Jesus at the cross!). 

Our word ‘abide’ is linked to another English word, ‘abode’. God abides with us. Christ bids us to abide in him, and he will abide in us. He bids us to make our home with him, as he has made his home with us.  And central to the notion of this abode is God choosing to have us for company. God is with us.

Perhaps that is why John ends his gospel with Jesus doing ordinary close, social-sharing activities. Breaking bread with strangers; walking on a dusty road with two puzzled disciples, grieving; eating breakfast on the seashore. 

God continues to dwell with us. He was with us the beginning; and he is with us at the end. He will not leave us.

God is Emmanuel – God with us. He made us for company with each other, and for eternal company with him. God is with us in creation; in human suffering and loneliness; in redemption, and finally, in heaven.   “God with us” is how John’s Prologue begins: “the Word was with God…with us in the beginning”. 

This Good Friday, remember. God is with us in the valley of the shadow of death; with us in light and dark, chaos and order; pain and passion. Though we may turn aside from him, he will ever turn from us.  In death and in resurrection, Jesus is always with us – more powerfully and intensely than we can ever imagine.  

God is with us where we are, right now. When you think you are barely hanging on. When all seems dark and hopeless. There is a light.