In the middle of St Peter’s square in Rome, there stands a great obelisk. It about four and half thousand years old and it originally stood in the temple of the sun in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis. But it was bought to Rome by the dreadful Emperor Caligula and it was set right in the middle of Circus of Nero, equally dreadful, that was on the Vatican hill. It was in that Circus that St Peter was martyred and the obelisk may well have been the last thing on this Earth that Peter saw. On top of the obelisk there now stands a cross. In ancient times there was a gold ball representing, of course, the sun. Now there is a cross however, the cross of Christ, and on the pedestal of the obelisk there are two inscriptions. The first of them in Latin, “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat”, which translated means, Christ has conquered, Christ now rules, Christ now reigns supreme. The other inscription, “The Lion of Judah has conquered”. So here we have the language of victory. Christianity has triumphed by the power of the cross and triumphed even over even the greatest power that the ancient world had known, the Roman Empire, and here in the middle of St Peter’s square stands the obelisk baring those triumphant inscriptions.
The Jesus we meet tonight, or rather who comes to meet us could hardly be more different. Tonight we meet, not the Lion of Judah, but the Lamb of God. This is the Jesus who first of all gets down and washes feet, an unpleasant task, but an essential service in dusty Palestine, and usually assigned to the lowest of all the slaves. And here he is, the Lord and master, as he calls himself, down he goes and putting himself at the feet of the disciples. At this point the world is turned on its head and all the obelisks of this world come crashing down. Things however get worse because on this same night that he washes the feet, the same Jesus, the Lamb of God, speaks some of the most extraordinary words that have ever been uttered. He gives to these same disciples a piece of bread and said, ‘This is my body’, not ‘this looks like my body’, or ‘this is symbolic of my body’, he says, ‘This is my body, this piece of bread’. He hands them a cup of wine and speaks words no less strange, ‘This wine is my blood’. So the Jesus who puts himself at the feet of the disciples, even more extraordinarily, is the Jesus who puts himself quite literally into the hands of his disciples. Now once Jesus puts himself into the hands of human beings, it becomes a very risky, a very dangerous thing for him to do and the events of tomorrow, Good Friday, will show just how dangerous it is. When the Lord entrusts himself into the hands of human beings, the body is broken and the blood is shed, but so it must be. The washing of the feet was symbolic, and very powerfully so, but the gift of the Eucharist is no mere symbol, no mere parable of the new order of relationships that comes to birth in Jesus. The gift of the Eucharist moves from symbol to reality, ‘this is my body, this is my blood’.
In the book of Exodus this evening, we have heard of the Passover lamb. The lamb was sacrificed and then eaten as part of the feast in preparation for the liberation from the house of slavery coming forth from Egypt. The language of the lamb will be taken up by John the Baptist, at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus where John will point to him and say, ‘There is the Lamb of God’, not the lamb we have taken from the flock, but the lamb whom God himself has given us, and has given us to be the sacrifice, not just to prepare for the liberation but to actually enable it. He is the one who sets us free. ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ we say in mass, and we will say it later this evening. Yet this is the lamb who not only prepares for the journey into final freedom; this is the lamb who sets us free once and for all, even from the Egypt of death. Jesus is not the lion of Judah, he is the Lamb of God, he is the sacrifice which God himself has provided and he becomes the feast. This altar of sacrifice will become the table of the feast and the Lamb of God is the one whom we eat in the feast and his blood we drink. We sit down with God at this table of the feast and the communion between God and us is sealed in Holy Communion. The communion among ourselves is also sealed just as it was when the ancient Israelites sacrificed the lamb and ate it in the feast. The feast that we celebrate here tonight, not only looks back, but it looks to the future, to the moment when we will say again and finally “blessed are those called to the feast of the lamb, the wedding feast, the supper of the lamb”. So this is a moment that looks to that final moment, the eternal feast, not the feast of ‘once upon a time’ but the feast of eternity that will come at the end of time when we sit down at his table and enjoy the feast that is forever, when there is no more morning, no more weeping and no more pain. Tonight we face the question, Lion or Lamb? Tonight we are immersed in the mysteries of the Lamb of God and tonight we say ‘yes’ to him, to the Lamb. And to say yes to him and to follow him wherever he goes, is to agree to place ourselves at the feet of the world. This is the church of the lamb, a church which places herself at the feet of the Lamb, at the feet of the world, and a church which even places herself, puts herself, into the hands of the world. To that we say ‘yes’ tonight as we begin the journey of these three days. And as we say yes we show ourselves to be a people of the Lamb, not of the Lion. A people who follow him wherever he goes, and so I say tonight, to you who have gathered here in the cathedral, blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the lamb. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
April 17, 2014