Second Sunday After Epiphany

Agnus Dei apse mosaic in the Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia — 6th-century, artisan(s) unknown.

Second Sunday After Epiphany — January 15, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Isaiah 49:1-7 • Psalm 40:1-11 • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 • John 1:29-42

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Image description: Found at the top front center of the arched apse above the altar appears a white lamb on a green domed surface within a decorative round mandorla. A large round gold halo containing a cross surrounds the lamb’s head. The background is an aquamarine blue with six large white 8-pointed stars set on dark blue disks — three on each side of the lamb. To the right and left of the lamb are the names of two of the twelve female martyrs also depicted down the sides of the arch.

I am continuously thanking my God for you when I think about the grace God has offered you in Jesus the Anointed. In this grace, God is enriching every aspect of your lives by gifting you with the right words to say and everything you need to know. In this way, your life story confirms the life story of the Anointed One, so you are not ill-equipped or slighted on any necessary gifts as you patiently anticipate the day when our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, is revealed. Until that final day, He will preserve you; and on that day, He will consider you faultless. Count on this: God is faithful and in His faithfulness called you out into an intimate relationship with His Son, our Lord Jesus the Anointed. — 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

…John sees Jesus coming toward him. In eager astonishment, he shouts out:
John the Baptist: Look! This man is more than He seems! He is the Lamb sent from God, the sacrifice to erase the sins of the world! He is the One I have been saying will come after me, who existed long before me and is much greater than I am.
— John 1:29-30

The image of the Lamb of God is one of the oldest in Christianity. It continues to be a powerful symbol for Christ. Given the history and the grand number of works portraying Jesus in this form, it took me a while to select just which lamb to share with you today. I landed on this mosaic from a very old Byzantine cathedral in Croatia for a couple of reasons.

Interior of Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia — 6th-century

In my research this week I discovered that in 698AD a church council voted that Jesus should only be portrayed in his human form and not in symbolic imagery such as the Lamb of God. An interesting theological judgment call that doesn’t appear to have stuck. History shows us Lamb of God depictions continued to prevail. This symbol became so popular over the centuries we find it on coins and flags and coats of arms, in cathedral interior and exterior decoration, in beautiful stained glass and mosaics. You may have seen the popular rendering of a lamb with its hoof wrapped around a large cross or a flag with a large red cross set on white (the standard of Christianity).

Just recently a very expensive project to restore the Ghent Altarpiece of St. Bavo’s cathedral in Belgium painted by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck was completed. The result was shocking. In the restoration it was discovered someone had painted over the face on the lamb — seems the very human looking features and direct gaze on the Eycks’ Lamb of God were too much. I find the newly restored face baring a resemblance to the Croatian mosaic Lamb.

Detail of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel from the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck (left – pre-restoration and right – post-restoration image) — oil on wood, 1432. Photo by Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage.

I am quite in favor of the decision in the Euphrasian Basilica to flank the lamb with the portraits of twelve martyred women. This is a rare find. Jesus as the Lamb of God is not surrounded by male disciples, prophets, apostles, writers, etc. I find this to be a connection point especially with the text from Paul to the Corinthians this week. Here in the opening of a letter that was read to men and woman alike comes a welcome encouragement. It strikes me as especially emboldening for those who would face persecution and death including those woman beautifully presented alongside the Lamb himself.

Apse mosaics in the Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia — 6th-century, artisan(s) unknown.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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