Thursday, November 22, 2012
The Lord: Chapter 79, “The Lamb”
In a mosque you won’t see pictures of God. But Christianity “runs the danger of scandal,” Romano Guardini writes. Christianity says that God “became flesh.” Its saints and artists have represented God with imagery for two thousand years.
No image of God is stranger to me than that of Jesus in Revelation: the lamb. (Note the lamb at the base of the cross in this image by Matthias Grünewald, cited by Guardini.) A weak, humble, albeit warm and friendly creature, what is the lamb doing as a central symbol of God made man in Christian life?
That’s what RG asks in this chapter.
Guardini admits that the Muslim approach is perhaps as appropriate as any. “What form would most appropriately express God?” he asks. “The answer is doubtless: That furthest removed from man—empty space, for example. (It is a powerful idea of Islam’s this representing the presence of God in her mosques by a room stripped of image and implement.) Or perhaps the spaciousness of heaven. Or silence. . . . ”
But in the Catholic Mass we celebrate the lamb. As we prepare to receive communion, we sing—and to me it’s a beautiful and moving song: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us . . . ”
Guardini notes that the lamb is not the only animal symbol at the center of Christian life. The dove represents the Holy Spirit. The animal, he writes, stands between man and the inanimate realm of empty space and silence. “It is familiar to us because it is alive, as we are, yet unknown. We know how animals behave, we dominate and exploit them. Yet they remain a mystery.”
But why the lamb? “In southern countries the Lamb is the animal most used for nourishment; it was also the usual sacrificial offering, particularly in the cult of the Old Testament. That is why its image is so suggestive of the Savior . . . ”
In the Book of Revelation, the Lamb has a strange power. Only the Lamb can break the seals of the scroll. “The world is so deeply sealed in the enigma, hat its solution can come only from elsewhere. Not simply from God; to say so is unchristian; for fallen man “God” himself is questionable. . . . [The Father] does not open the scroll; it lies closed in his right hand. He gives it to him who is able to open it, Christ the Lamb. He has the power to open the scroll, because he has suffered the world and her questions through to the end without ever succumbing to her.”
As you know, my old friend, I am in the midst of writing a memoir of my own spiritual life, a project I am now thinking may take several years. In reliving critical events of my life, with much help from the memories of people who lived them alongside me, I feel like I too am “suffering the world and her questions,” though I often still succumb. But this suffering that comes with reliving painful events in my past, though it causes storms and nightmares, also seems to crack open my heart. Through the process of investigation and writing that I am now going through, I hope to open my own scrolls some day.
I may need to become a lamb.
Always your friend,
This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 80.