29”The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Have you ever had the experience when something you have said comes back to you completely misunderstood and is interpreted, so impossibly disconnected from its original context and intention, it seems it took place in a completely different universe? The tragedy is such an event can ultimately come to define you, what you believe and how you live, taking on a life of its own.
Working in a school, I saw many bad decisions made by young people fittingly described as permanently defining moments if they were allowed to take on such an aura. Peer pressure, the need to belong, the first burst of passion or an encounter with alcohol or drugs suddenly took on a life of its own, becoming permanently attached to the young person involved. Yet life moves, times change and people mature, becoming somebody completely different to the one you remember. They are no longer the same or living in the same context or environment. Their world has changed and so have they. They have out grown the experience once synonymous with them and find new ways to be defined and understood.
Merton suggests the only person who is inconsistent is the one who is always the same, who remains connected to ideas, thoughts, philosophies and practices which worked once upon a time and have now taken on the rigour of known truth never to be challenged or changed.
David Bohm, the physicist and philosopher, speaks of creativity as being the passion to find the new in the experiences of life and to exalt those above the known and the accepted. He and others affirm this as the practice of all creatives – artists, musicians, mystics, scientists and theologians.
For theologians and mystics – you and I – we risk becoming solidified believers. Maybe a better term is petrified believers. We remain connected to a way of seeing our faith and our Christ, locking us in the past, not allowing us to expand with the evolving universe. Running the risk of being at odds with orthodox understanding of our faith, I would suggest we need to let go of images which worked when they were written and begin to explore new ideas appropriate to our 21st century understanding of the universe and the laws of creation as seen in the urge for wholeness and creation.
John and the other New Testament writers were writing in a very different world to the one we live in. The understanding of the universe as a static creation in which the earth was the centre of all that existed, where God was above the sky in a place called heaven and our existence on this planet was temporary and transitory until we made the transfer to heaven or hell. Such a world view no longer exists or can be supported and neither does a world in which the understanding of the need of a sacrificial lamb dying a violent death so we can live free of sin can be.
John, the Jewish mystic, uses an image from the Old Testament, a ritual of symbolically addressing and confronting ones’ alienation from God and of making amends for simply being an ordinary human being. It was a ritualistic act all participated in and allowed reconciliation between God and the community. It was not a personal act but one done in and on behalf of the community. If we read “‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” literally, it seems to infer that God sent Jesus for just one purpose; to die to become the basis for substitutionary atonement or the idea Jesus was sent to die to set us personally free from sin.
If we consider ourselves Trinitarian, this idea raises a number of questions in terms of the relationships within that iconic symbol of unity and diversity. If we consider God as pro-life and essentially committed to the ongoing creation of the universe, does it not seem a rather brutal approach to take to deal with a relationship issue? Is there not something amiss if the only reason we celebrate the incarnation as understood in Jesus is that Jesus is our get out of jail card and we never have to face the music for our own falling short of the mark because of the violent death God prepared for him? Or is there something else at work here in John’s comment and in the thinking of John the gospel writer?
If we take the hymn to Christ at the beginning of his Gospel seriously then there is surely something else alluded to here. Jesus is present at the beginning of all things and is the empowering present in the ongoing journey of creation as seen in the evolutionary process. Jesus is the ultimate in created consciousness and therefore the ultimate image of the creator. The incarnation is testament to the relationship God has with creation in that he becomes fully participant in the process to wholeness.
As one commentator suggests: The Jewish disciples of Jesus understood the identification of Jesus, the symbolic Yom Kippur sacrifice, as a symbol of the human yearning to be at one with God. It was their way of saying that the death of Jesus was not a tragedy, but was a free and complete act of human self-giving. In offering his life without the need to protect, defend or preserve his selfhood, they were saying that in the death of Jesus they had caught a glimpse of who and what God is. They had experienced in Jesus life fully lived, loving extravagantly, as having given them the courage to be fully themselves, fully human.
The death of Jesus was therefore originally interpreted as an act of ultimate self-giving that greatly enhanced life.
A God of sacrificial atonement seems out of sync with 21st century cosmology and scientific knowledge. Now it is appropriate to understand the death of Jesus as the fulfilment of an individuals commitment to the process of evolution – one dies so another or a species may flourish and become something completely knew. Jesus embodies the creative intent toward an ever burgeoning, ever blossoming world – he lives the ultimate example of created consciousness so that others may do likewise through love in action – the Spirit. The Spirit is released to empower you and I through a mystical experience of Christ for ourselves.
As Jesus grows and becomes the Christ, leaving behind his ego self and his personal individual identity, it is so we may experience the possibility of doing the same. He is the Lamb of God in the sense he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of becoming. He deals with sin, the dislocation from oneness via the ego self, in that anyone who has a real experience of the Christ will become Christified and do likewise.
And perhaps here is the reason we wish only to see Jesus as the means to our personal redemption. To accept the task to become Christified – like Christ – will entail us moving away from our personal egos and taking the journey to complete kenosis or self emptying as Christ did, so others and humanity may evolve into Christ.
It is a costly act. It will cost materially, physically, psychological, emotionally and spiritually. You will see things differently and from a new place and find yourself marginalised and locked out of normal society. You will not be accepted now, nor will your words and actions be seen to be appropriate. They may, as they did for Jesus, be deemed so after the tragedy and they may then empower others to do the same.
The challenge for the church, you and I, is to leave behind a set of symbols appropriate for another age and begin to search for the Lamb of God in a strangely different world than the one John was writing in, and the one in which much of the definitive theology was done in, such as the middle ages. We now understand the world differently on a day-to-day basis and must risk disconnecting our theology from a world view that is no more, rediscovering the Lamb of God in an expanding universe. To not do so, spells the end for faith.