Behold the Lamb of God,
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
These are the words which always strike me the most at mass. Perhaps it’s that after my mind heads off on some long tangent during the Eucharistic prayer (which I tell myself off for it during the Our Father!), I am finally jolted back into recollection. Perhaps it is the forcefulness of the imperative ‘Behold’. I may be corrected, but I think ‘Behold’ is the only time, aside from the ‘Go forth’ at the end, that you are told to do something in mass. But perhaps there is a deeper reason – Jesus did say
and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (Jn 12:32)
I wanted to know a little more about these words I say and hear so often. What is Jesus saying to me, and what is it that I am speaking back to him?
The words of the Priest are the words of St John the Baptist at the start of the Gospel of John (Jn 1:29). The Baptist points out Jesus, he bears witness to him – here, finally is the one who John was sent to herald, the one who will deal definitively with our sin and brokenness. The next day he repeats himself, this time to his disciples:
“Behold the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day (Jn 1:37-39)
The invitation ‘Behold’ is not meant to leave us staring at the host. It is an invitation to follow Jesus, to have him dwell and remain with us. It is inviting us to ‘communion’ – not just to receive the sacramental presence of Jesus, but to have him dwell in our lives, and even to enter into the ‘communion’ of heaven:
Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9)
The wedding banquet is laid out, and we are invited. But we are not just to be guests. We are the Bride. We are on our knees, but it is Christ who is proposing.
It’s at this point, faced with the truth of who is in front of us and the enormity of what we are invited to, that a moment of panic sets in. Originally we did dwell with God in the garden. Our dignity as humans is that we are made to be a dwelling place for God – by God’s gift were meant to be his temple and his Bride. But now, faced with the truth of Love and Holiness, we know the truth about ourselves. We are hardly wearing white. Our house is not in order. We have traded in our dignity, we have cheated on our lover, we are not worthy to live this marriage. We are reminded of another ‘Behold’, the ‘Ecce Homo’ of Pilate – “Behold the man” who is scourged and crowned with thorns. Our courage to look falters. We feel like saying with St Peter, when after a miraculous catch of fish he perceived a little who he was dealing with:
Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8)
But the liturgy does not leave us there! It puts on our lips the faith of the Centurion, of which Christ says:
Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith (Mt 8:10)
We acknowledge the truth about ourselves, but also our firm faith in Jesus to enter into us as we are, and to heal us, to heal our soul. It is a faith that takes courage, because it involves tearing the bandages from our wounds and taking away our crutches so that Jesus may find us as we are. Not to leave us as we are, mind you, but so that we, the Church, the Bride, may be presented to Christ in splendour
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that (we) may be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)
It is this faith that gives us the courage to go to communion, to keep confessing our sins and to try and bring God’s love into our day to day life. Or more precisely, it is the love of Christ that gives us courage, for he, fully knowing what he is getting himself into, still wants to wed our souls.