At the Intersection of Creativity, Spirituality, and Life
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Lenten Journey with Art #7
Francisco de Zurburan,Agnus Dei, c. 1635-40
How it must have shocked and puzzled the followers of John the Baptist when, seeing Jesus approaching the place where he was baptizing, John lifted up his voice and announced, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John had been preaching about repentance to his rag-tag group of Jewish followers, who would have been familiar with the idea of a sacrificial lamb being offered to cover the sins of the people. And now, he was proclaiming that Jesus would be fulfilling that very role.Francisco de Zurburan, one of the great fifteenth-century Spanish artists, has given us an image that is at the same time beautiful and horrifying. He has painted an ordinary lamb, laid out on a table or altar with its feet bound and trussed in preparation for slaughter. The lamb stands out starkly against the dark and indistinct background, and it is not struggling against its fate, but seems prepared to die. This puts us in mind of the prophecy of Isaiah that the Messiah would meet His end “like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Jesus was a willing sacrifice, One whose life was not taken from Him, but given for our sake.In our modern age we are often a little squeamish about the mention of blood, as though we are a little too high-minded for such a concept as blood sacrifice. But down through the ages, Christians have rightfully celebrated the metaphorical power of blood shed on our behalf. Atonement for sin has a cost. From the poetic hymn by William Cowper, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,” to the gospel song “Power in the Blood,” Christians down through time have lifted our voices to celebrate the price paid to make us right with God.As in the story of Abraham and Isaac, so God has Himself provided the means for restoration of a broken relationship. He made the step toward us by offering Himself. To speak of the blood is to speak of the suffering love of God and the depth of His commitment to rescue, care for, and sustain us.In his first letter, the apostle Peter referred to his recipients as ones who were “obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). Their salvation had been purchased at a great price. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without spot or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Hebrews makes it all so clear: the One who acts as our heavenly High Priest did not just offer a sacrifice for us; He was Himself the sacrifice. And it was an act that we embrace anew every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
As George Herbert writes, “Love is the liquor sweet and most divine/Which my God feels as blood; but I as wine” (FromThe Agonie).