“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ —John 1:29
The Scriptures are full of calls to a physical response: clap your hands, shout for joy, be still. One particular call we find quite often in Scripture: “Behold!” Which I find interesting, in that I never use that word, nor does anyone I know. Yet the Bible says it all the time. “Look! See! Do not miss this!” To behold is to turn one’s full attention, one’s whole self—body, mind, soul—to an object. It would not have done to simply glance up from one’s smart phone at the carpenter from Nazareth, and then back down again: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John’s call is fitting as we begin Lent. But how does one “behold the Lamb of God”? We can’t see him. Nor, for that matter, could any of John’s original audience see more than a simple carpenter preparing to be baptized. John is calling us to turn our soul’s sight to an invisible reality.
This turning is how the French Catholic philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien describes prayer: “an act of presence to the invisible.” This act of presence before God is not without a sense of risk, for it “puts man thoroughly at stake, in all dimensions of his being. It exposes him in every sense of the word expose and with nothing held back.”
Which should begin to make us nervous. Who of us doesn’t try to keep things hidden before God? How often do we choose not to pray because we feel unworthy?
Chrétien continues: “He who addresses himself to God always does so…from the depths of his manifest or hidden distress, from the depths of his sin. In his prayer, he confesses the divine holiness, before which he stands and to which he addresses himself. If he truly stands before it, he is by that very standing dispossessed of all the beliefs that he could ever hold about his innermost self. In the at once discrete and inescapable light of prayer, he himself is visible from now on, and in this light he discovers that no man is worthy of prayer, if ‘worthy’ means resting on previous merit.”
The Good News is that the divine, Holy One that we behold is He who takes away the sin of the world. Because Jesus provides our merit, our un-worthiness ceases to be an obstacle in prayer and is transformed into a resource :
Though great our sin and sore our woes,
his grace much more aboundeth.
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth.
The way I am beholding the Lamb of God today and through Lent is to pray the Jesus Prayer. For a few minutes each morning—or however long it takes to quiet my mind and soul before God—I find a quiet spot, sit in a comfortable position, and focus on my breathing. As I exhale, I pray, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
There’s nothing magical about these words, but I do find myself “centered” by repeating them: I behold the One who provides me my worth and my very breath. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote, “the day begins with a physically concrete and specific reminder that [my] own individual existence is breathed through by a life that isn’t [my] possession.”
Rev. Daniel Beilman serves as Advent’s Pastor of Worship and Spiritual Formation. Dan lives in Cheverly with his wife Jen, four sons, and dog Fritz.