The Light of Christ
What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.—John 1: 3
Several years ago my son and I attended the Easter Vigil at the cathedral in Seville, Spain. This cavernous building, the largest Gothic church in all of Christendom, was in total darkness as we entered. Soon every seat was taken and crowds pressed around the perimeter.
The service began as a splendidly robed bishop entered carrying a tall lighted Paschal candle. From this one flame, light was extended to us all. Using small tapers, we each passed the flame to those around us, until the cathedral was bathed in candlelight from a thousand points. At the Gloria Patri, the overhead lights came on; bells on the top of the rood screen began jangling; and the massive organ boomed out a resounding, full-throated accompaniment. With the church fully illumined, we witnessed the highlight of the service: the baptism of dozens of new converts dressed in white.
This grand liturgical drama demonstrated to one and all that the passion of Christ is what gives meaning to our baptism into the church, the body of Christ. Our going down into the waters of baptism represents Christ’s death. Our rising from the baptismal waters is emblematic of Christ’s rising from the grave, his triumph over darkness and death. An early Christian term for baptism is photismos, meaning “illumination,” the coming of the light of Christ.
The Easter Vigil is the one of the oldest liturgies of the Christian church, dating to the first or second century. The imagery of darkness and light has always been at its heart. The very heavens are invoked to bear witness, with the date of Easter set on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, thus moving us roundabout to the day of maximum illumination. From time immemorial, the Paschal candle represents the light of Christ. From it, other candles are lit and presented to the newly baptised. Receiving the light of Christ sets us on our lifelong journey of faith as christened members of God’s holy church, as Christlings, little Christs, charged to share that divine light with others.
Darkness and light are at the heart of God’s coming among us in the person of Jesus Christ. In the curtain-raising words of the gospel of John, “What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Also from John come Christ’s words of supreme self-revelation: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Who among us has not confronted the darkness of despair, disappointment, loss, confusion? Who among is not frightened still by the darkness of terror that continues to stalk our world? Into this darkness comes a child, the Son of God, whose birth is heralded by a brilliant star, and an angel who speaks words of comfort: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
Even the darkness of death is suffused with the light of Christ. On the third day after his crucifixion, women come to Christ’s tomb at early dawn, just as the earth is being warmed and illumined by the rising sun. Entering the tomb, they are perplexed. Two angelic figures appear in garments of dazzling light and ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Death has been conquered by the risen Christ. The grave cannot hold him; nor can it hold those who share his risen life. “He is not here, but has risen.” And we affirm that glorious victory of life, that ascendancy of light, by ever responding, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.