19 January 2020

Missing the mark in
shaping up to God’s
plans for the cosmos

The Lamb of God … a surviving detail in Saint Senanus Church, Foynes, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 19 January 2020

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

The Readings: Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 40: 1-12; I Corinthians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘This is the Lamb of God’ … Saint John the Baptist (left) with Christ in the centre depicted as the Good Shepherd and the Virgin Mary (right) … a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Saint John’s Gospel has no story of the first Christmas, no child in the crib, and no Visit of the Magi. The manifestation of the Incarnate Christ in Saint John’s Gospel is revealed with the witness of Saint John the Baptist to Christ as the Lamb of God, the one who ‘existed before me,’ and as ‘the Son of God’ or ‘God’s Chosen One.’

In the Fourth Gospel, Christ first walks onto the stage, like the principal character in a Greek drama, as Saint John the Baptist is baptising in the River Jordan and talking about what is to be. And, in good dramatic style, letting us know what to expect as the drama unfolds on this stage, Saint John the Baptist uses three ways to describe Christ.

He is:

● ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1: 29 and 36);
● ‘A man … who was before me’ (John 1: 30);
● ‘The Son of God’ (John 1: 34).

That manifestation of the Christ in Saint John’s Gospel will close with the witness of the Beloved Disciple – the other John – to the Paschal Lamb dying on the Cross on the eve of Passover.

His description of Christ as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ presents Christ as the Servant of God described by the Prophet Isaiah as being led without complaint like a lamb before the shearers, a man who ‘bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors’ (see Isaiah 53: 7-12).

With the benefit of hindsight, this is also as a reference to the Lamb sacrificed at Passover – in Saint John’s Gospel, the crucifixion takes place at the same time as the Passover.

But the Lamb of God is taking away not just my sin, not just our sin, not just the sin of many, of Christians, or those we judge as transgressors, those we still have a grudge against – not even the sin of the world, but the sin of the κόσμος (cosmos), which means not merely planet earth, but the whole created order.

Secondly, Saint John the Baptist describes Christ (verse 30) as the one who ‘existed before me’ (RSV) or who ‘was before me’ (NRSV), which reflects a recurring theme in Johannine literature of the pre-existence of the Word.

Thirdly, he describes him as ‘the Son of God’ or ‘God’s Chosen One’ (verse 34). This is the first time in this Gospel that Christ is given the messianic title of ‘the Son of God.’ This title, ‘The Son of God’ is another reference to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

We then move on in this reading to find the disciples of Saint John the Baptist turning to follow Christ.

So this reading links the baptism of Christ with the call of the Disciples, links seeing and believing, being and doing, baptism and discipleship.

The first two disciples are called to follow Jesus (verse 37) in word and action, ‘Come and see’ (verse 39). In Saint John’s Gospel, ‘seeing,’ in the true sense, means believing. Think of the later insistence by Saint Thomas that he cannot believe unless he also sees (see John 20: 24-29).

And to come and see is to abide in Christ. Those first disciples come, see and stay (verse 39).

But who do the disciples say Christ is?

They have three very different descriptions from those given by Saint John the Baptist. They describe him as:

● Rabbi or Teacher (verse 38)
● the one to see and follow (verse (verse 39)
● the Messiah or the anointed one (verse 41)

Who is Christ for you?

This is a question each and every one of us must ask ourselves anew time and time again.

He must be more than a good rabbi or teacher, because the expectations of a good religious leader or a good teacher change over time.

Who is the Messiah for you?

Again, many people at the time had false expectations of the Messiah.

But who is Christ for you?

George Fox, the founding Quaker, challenged his contemporaries: ‘You may say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?”

Who is Christ for you?

Is he a personal saviour?

One who comforts you?

Or is he more than that for you?

Who do you say Christ is?

It is a question that challenges Saint Peter later in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 16: 15, which is part of the reading on 23 August 2020, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 16: 13-20).

Not who do others say he is, but who do you say Christ is?

There is a difference in translations that speak of the ‘sins of the world’ and the ‘sin of the world.’

The word in this Gospel reading (see verse 29) is the singular sin of the cosmos (ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου). The word indicates being without a share in something, in this case God’s intention or design … missing the mark.

So often the world has missed the mark in terms of shaping up to Gods plan and intention for the whole creation, the whole cosmos.

Christmas has passed, and the Epiphany season concludes with the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Candlemas, two weeks from today (2 February 2020).

This morning’s Gospel reading is a reminder at Epiphany time that Christ has come, not just as cuddly baby at Christmas, not just to give me personal comfort, not just to give me a personal revelation, but to confront the whole created order, and to reconcile the whole created order to God’s plan.

I find it is a beautiful presentation in this Gospel that the beginning of Christ’s ministry is set out over six days. And on the seventh day of that new beginning we have a sabbath – God rests; Christ goes to the wedding at Cana, the third of the Epiphany moments. And there we have a sign, a sacrament, a token of the complete transformation of the created order, a sacramental or symbolic token of the heavenly banquet (John 2: 1-12).

Who is Christ for you? He confronts the evils of the world; he suffers with us; he invites you and me to come and see; he calls us into the new Creation; he makes us equal in the Kingdom of God; and we are guests at his banquet. He is God among us.

As Saint John the Baptist says, ‘I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’ (John 1: 34)

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Robert Spence (1871-1964), ‘Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield,’ depicts George Fox preaching barefooted in the snow in Lichfield in 1651 … George Fox challenged his followers to say who Christ is for them (Lichfield Museum)

John 1: 29-42 (NRSVA):

29 The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32 And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

The Lamb of God on the throne (see John 1: 36) … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Liturgical colour: White

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect (Unity):

Heavenly Father,
you have called us in the body of your Son Jesus Christ
to continue his work of reconciliation
and reveal you to the world:
forgive us the sins which tear us apart;
give us the courage to overcome our fears
and to seek that unity which is your gift and will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)


For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer (Unity):

Eternal God and Father,
whose Son at supper prayed that the disciples might be one,
as he is with you:
Draw us closer to him,
that in common love and obedience to you
we may be united to one another
in the fellowship of the one Spirit,
that the world may believe that he is Lord,
to your eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

The Lamb of God depicted in a stained-glass window in Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)


691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39)
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33)
332, Come let us join our cheerful songs (CD 20)

‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ … a stained-glass window in Dromcollogher, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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