This is a concluding reflection for the class “Beholding the Lamb” (John 1:29-39), part of the Lenten series “Beholding the Lamb, Being Held by the Shepherd: Exploring the Question of Suffering in the Gospel of John” taught at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church on Sunday February 26, 2012.
When we understand that Christ enters into our system of violent scapegoating as the forgiving victim and dismantles our violence with his forgiveness, we can begin to see and experience the Eucharist in a new way. We can start to see the Eucharist as the sacred space where Christ continues to prune away at our violence, where Christ the “Lamb of God” continues to take away the sin of the world. At the Eucharist, we can bring to Christ whatever inner violence we are holding onto, whatever anger or frustration we have, whatever pain and confusion we are experiencing in this world of suffering. As we remember and even re-enact Christ’s death in the Eucharist, we can give Christ all of our anger and violence, we can give him the darkest parts of ourselves, knowing that he will hold us lovingly in it and through it. Christ will receive our anger and violence just like he received the hyssop and the role of the “Lamb of God.” Christ will receive our need to scapegoat and our need to blame by becoming our ultimate scapegoat and the ultimate target of our blame.
A classmate of mine recently shared with me her visit to an Anglican church in South Africa. As the only white person there, she sat in the back and then observed all the parishioners standing and shouting. Initially she wasn’t sure what was going on. They were shouting in Zulu and she had only learned a little bit of the language. After listening to several minutes of hollering, my friend eventually picked up enough of the Zulu to learn that the shouting parishioners were actually in prayer, ranting at God. It was an open time of prayer before the official service began. Many of these South African Christians had a lot of things to be angry about and they brought all their anger to God in prayer before the Eucharist, knowing that God would hold them in it.
I cannot imagine many Episcopal churches doing this; however, I have silently expressed my anger to God during the Eucharist. There is a subtle violence in the simple act of breaking bread, especially when we understand Christ as the Bread of Life, as the Bread we eat, as the Bread we break. When the priest breaks the bread, I sometimes let that serve as an expression of my anger towards God. And then I hear the words “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” and I fall back into his love for me. And I am reassured that Christ will take whatever frustration I give him, even to the point of death.
And then I keep the feast. I receive his love and forgiveness in the bread and wine. And I know that even if my anger were to kill him, Christ would come back from the grave to feed me and forgive me and invite me into a deeper relationship with him.
And through this process, I experience Christ the “Lamb of God” taking away my anger (and my sin) by absorbing it and transforming it with his love and forgiveness. And as I behold the Lamb who receives all my darkness and violence even to the point of death and loves me still, I sometimes experience that peace which passeth all understanding. And I begin to understand more personally that ancient prayer to the Agnus Dei, who takes away the sin of the world: “Dona nobis pacem.” “Grant us peace.”