Last week we celebrated the feast of the Lord's baptism. Today God's word invites us to understand Jesus better through the preaching of John the Baptist, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world..." (John 1:29). Why did John the Baptist call Christ a lamb? Let's examine two reasons.
First of all, in the old law, there are several animals which can be offered to make reparation for sin: the heifer, the goat, the sheep (which might be a ram or a lamb), the turtle dove, and the pigeon. All of these prefigured the true sacrifice, which is Christ, who takes on himself the sins of the people and offers himself as a "lamb of expiation" (cf. Leviticus 14).
Secondly, in the new and eternal covenant, Christ is sacrificed and offers himself. The Passover feast has a deep meaning in Israel's history. In Exodus 12 we read, "Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household...it must be a lamb without blemish." It must be "without blemish" because it is an offering to God. This prefigures Christ who was pure, innocent, and slain. In Exodus 12:11, the meal is a necessary part of the ritual. When the Israelites came to the promised land, they continued to celebrate the Passover meal. It was seen as part of a sacrifice ritual, a covenant-making ritual. Our Lord chose the context of the Passover supper to institute the Eucharist. He says, "This is my body...this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many." (Mark 14:23-24)
In today's Gospel we are invited to participate in the offering of Christ which makes possible the living of the covenant. With God's help we come back to Christ in the Mass to renew the links that bind us to God and to receive grace and virtue from Christ's sacrifice in the Mass. As we read in Matthew, this "blood of the covenant" is "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28)