Last week a dragon featured in my Homily, but today our 2nd Reading from Revelation (5:11-14) presents us with an animal that appears far less exciting – a lamb – or to be more exact – The Lamb. If you are quick off the mark, you’ll have already realised that “The Lamb” that is being spoken about here is the Lamb that we address every time we come to Mass. “Lamb of God …… have mercy on us.” It is of course, a way of talking about Jesus. The writer of the Book of Revelation deliberately makes the Dragon and the other powers of evil appear particularly large and frightening, and in contrast this inevitably makes us think of “The Lamb that was sacrificed” as pretty helpless.
Indeed if we’d read the story of the Lamb from when John first sees it, we would know that the angel had told him to look for a Lion “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5) He is, after all, seeing a vision of God in the glory of heaven, with “flashes of lightning.. peals of thunder” and strange beasts. And he is weeping with frustration that no-one seems powerful enough to open the great scroll of God that will make the purposes of God actually happen. Like us, the people who read this book were surrounded by evils that seemed immensely powerful and they felt very small and helpless in contrast. Like us, they found themselves, despite their faith, weeping at all the sadness and evil around them, which made them wonder if God was actually at work amidst all this darkness.
So John gives them, and us, a vision of heaven in which the Lamb (that is Jesus) is the only one capable of making the salvation of God actually happen. Sadly our reading cannot give us the build up to the point we just heard. It shows that before we are able to see the Lamb we have to join in praise of God using words that are very familiar to us – “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord”. Yes, these are the words of the angels in heaven and it’s only as we are drawn into this vision of heaven that we can see how Jesus the Lamb of God is at work. The Mass then echoes the Book of Revelation actually taking us on the same journey of spiritual , shown in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
Our Gospel (John 21:1-19) tells the same story, but in a much more down to earth way. The disciples have more or less given up hope, and you can actually almost hear St Peter saying “I’m fed up with all this waiting. I’m going fishing” Notice that when Jesus comes to them, as an ordinary man cooking fish on a fire on the beach, one of the disciples has to do the same job as the writer of Revelation does, he has to open their spiritual eyes. He looks at the ordinary man on the beach, but then says “It is the Lord”. Then Peter, aware of the ways he has failed the Lord, covers his nakedness, and leaps into the sea, and the rest of the story of his re-instatement follows. 3 times he denied Jesus and 3 times he has to reverse this denial in an act of love.
What the Book of Revelation does for us, if our spiritual eyes are open, is show us that every Mass is a vision of heaven, a vision of the glory of God and of Jesus the Lamb of God who, despite the evil and sadness that so often surrounds us, draws us through all the trials that beset us into his final victory.
One of the writers I often recommend to students who are facing Protestant criticisms of the Catholic Church is Scott Hahn. He was a devout and learned young Protestant academic who, as he studied the writing of the early Christians, noticed their constant references to the Eucharist. So he plucked up his courage and went to a Mass. Because he’d been taught that the Mass was a sacrilege, he sat right at the back and had his Bible with him to protect him. Then, as he listened to the Mass, he writes “something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me – in the words of the Mass… The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout….. Yet the experience was intensified ..when I heard the congregation recite “Lamb of God.. Lamb of God…. I immediately knew where I was. I was in the Book of Revelation.. I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb.” (The Lamb’s Supper – Scott Hahn)
Of course he became a Catholic, which is why I recommend his books! Sometimes it can take an ex Protestant to show us what we too often take for granted – the full glory of our faith and of the Holy Mass at its heart. Why go to Mass? Because the Mass links us with God : it takes us, through Jesus the Lamb, to the glory of God in heaven.