"John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
In Egypt, Wednesday marked a day of great opportunity and great danger. The elections held there were not only to oust former President Morsi's supporters, but to vote for a constitution guaranteeing rights that we in England take for granted: freedom of belief, equality in law of men and women, the prohibition of political parties being formed based on race or religion.
Egypt may seem rather distant to us, even though modern technology brings it right into our living rooms. More distant, I suspect, than it seemed to those crowding round the banks of the Jordan with Jesus to be baptised by John. And not just because of simple geographical proximity, but because of their shared history with Egypt, as Jews. It was from Egypt, generations ago, that their ancestors had escaped slavery, thanks to the pure sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. And that connexion would have been driven home when Our Lord approached and John proclaimed that here, come among them, was that very Lamb of God, the sacrificial victim who would liberate their people again.
But the kind of liberation they expected was not the kind that Jesus was to bring. Nor was it for them alone. The Passover Lamb had brought the Jewish people freedom from their Egyptian oppressors, and so the Jews naturally hoped that this new Lamb of God, the Messiah, would bring them similar freedom from the Romans who ruled their land. But Jesus' freedom would be for all people, and it would be a freedom from a far greater oppressor even than the ancient Egyptians or the Romans, an oppressor which binds and shackles us all: the Devil and his weapon of sin.
Sin is the one disease that afflicts all humanity. It ravages Egypt still, as men fall to the lust for power and violence. The Muslim Brotherhood is not content with a constitution which would keeps Islam as the national religion but allow for freedom of belief. They want absolute dominion, theocracy, and in the past their supporters have bombed churches and schools to achieve it, closed ballot boxes and prevented people from voting. Their tactic this time is to boycott the vote in the hope that only a minority will pass the new constitution, because then they will be able to blame that minority and accuse them of illegitimacy. And that minority are, by and large, Christians. Whatever the outcome of the vote, there will be attempts at reprisal, and Christians will doubtless suffer.
But if sin is the one disease that afflicts us all, by the grace of God there is also one cure for it: one Lord, one faith, one baptism. A baptism we share "together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," as St Paul writes to the Corinthians. However far away they may seem, the Coptic Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ through the baptism they share with us and with Him. And it is His sacrifice as the Lamb of God which offers the cure for all sin, offers reconciliation with the Father not just to our English church or just to the Coptic Church or even just to all Christians — not like the Passover Lamb was offered only for the Jewish people — but to all Creation. It is cosmic in its scale, infinite in its power, because it is the sacrifice of God's own self, God the Son to God the Father.
We are called to believe that it is that once-and-for-all sacrifice that Jesus offers through us and all Christians today and whenever we offer the Eucharist. He offers it as we offer it, not just for ourselves who receive His Body and Blood here, but for each other, for our brothers and sisters throughout the world, and for all creation. Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in the United Kingdom has asked for our prayers for his people in Egypt at this fragile moment. So, as we begin the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I ask you to offer today's sacrifice with me for peace in Egypt and for our brothers and sisters there.