Welcome, and welcome back if you are following this Lent journey with me. Whoever you are, I hope you find something that helps here. We are now beginning week three by my schedule, and turning our attention to Jesus, the light of the world. We’ll be continuing to draw on my book, Jesus said, I am – Finding life in the everyday
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all peoples. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3-4
The days grow longer – each day, we are tipping a little more from darkness to light. I’m watching the plants respond to that light. I even have a few tiny seedlings coming up in my veggie patch. At this time of year, the connection between light and life is clear, and fills us with hope.
Life and light.
It is often a good idea, particularly in John’s gospel, to look at the first mention, first use of a word or idea. And often the roots of his themes are found in his opening words, the prologue. But that prologue in itself carries echoes of something earlier, it takes us back to the very beginning of Genesis, where light is the first form spoken into being.
It starts with light. The things that live and grow on the Earth, our home, all depend on light. We cannot live without it.
And so when Jesus says he is the light of the world, we have a sense that these words are life-giving, momentous. They speak of something we need every day, and yet the physics of light – what light is – is hard for most of us to grasp.
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” John 1:9.
As the gospel stories are told, we hear Jesus saying I am the light of the world twice, and both times it’s at a turning point for someone, a moment which changes everything for them. So once again we see that something that seems perhaps high and exalted, beyond our understanding, is revealed in the deep reality of our lived experience.
Jesus first says, “I am the light of the world”, in a very dark place. The setting was the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, when the huge candlestick was lit at the temple, and the light from it was seen in Jerusalem’s streets……..
They [the religious leaders] seem to be policing the celebrations while Jesus is teaching in the temple, an eager crowd listening to him. The religious leaders bring a woman before Jesus, caught in adultery, and ask Jesus if she should be stoned as the law demands. The woman, whose life hangs in the balance, doesn’t seem to be of much concern. At this this challenge, Jesus does something remarkable. He shows us a different way of seeing, a different way we can think about the law.
The law can be used to judge and condemn another, or it can be used to throw light on our own hearts and motives.
“”Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”” John 8:7
with the stones lying on the ground, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” for the first time. It is an active sentence – of following and walking, and even the light is the light of life.
It is easier to walk forward, into new life, when we can see the way.
The second time Jesus said it is better known – and that’s in a conversation before the man born blind.
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” John 9:3-5
We see some parallels between this story and that of the woman who was not stoned – in both cases, people seem most concerned about pointing the finger, apportioning blame. Jesus does not do this. He sees with clear-sighted compassion, not naively, but looking with the light of love, and looking for God’s work of healing and restoring.
Jesus did not go looking for sin and guilt, and did not apportion blame. Human pain is, rather, the place where God’s work is to be done.
God seems to specialise in the transformation of bad things. It is the resurrection power, to redeem, restore, make new. What is more, it seems that the work is not God’s alone: ‘We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work’.
There is a ‘we’ in that sentence…. So the challenge is not to judge, but to join in with God’s work. God longs for us to act, as partners. What an extraordinary thought! The hope is that when we are in hopeless and most desperate situations, like the man born blind, like the woman, we can encounter the glory and mercy of God. We are open to the possibility of transformation. Once again, Jesus’ language is full of action. ‘Work’ is the key repeated word.
Night is coming for Jesus, and this is his response – to give sight to the blind.
We act now to lift the darkness we can. We work while it is light. This theme emerges again in the story of the raising of Lazarus (11:9-16). Light and work go together – and the work is the transformation of suffering and death, sin and despair, into hope and life. It is the bursting out of a new dawn, a new light to live by. This is the life-light in action: the glory-light that is found in the strangest places.
Can we notice this life-light, the light of Christ? Can we learn to see in its loving clarity? We know that if we turn towards light, like the plants, we will grow and grow well.
Reflection and Response
Oh, God, who spoke and light came into being, may we forever dwell in the brightness of knowing you.
May we bring the light of Christ to those in darkness,
may we chase away the shadows with hope and love,
may we hold a lamp for feet that stumble,
may we too be lights in the world.
The account of the woman and the stones we considered briefly above invites us to look at our own hearts and behaviour. Lent is a good time for self-examination.
Quaker light meditation
The light of love and grace transforms our seeing.
The Society of Friends have various pamphlets available to help introduce the practices of meditation and silent prayer. These are usually undertaken together, as a group, and the meditation below can be done alone or with others. The words in inverted commas are those of George Fox, founder of Quakers, 1624-1691. Many of the others are a paraphrase. Again, you may wish to begin this in darkness, or use a small light or candle to focus.
1 Look Inside “Your teacher is within you. Mind what is pure in you to guide you to God” – remember the work of the Spirit within you.
2 Identify the light “Now this is the Light with which you are lighted, which shows you when you do wrong.” When you bring yourself into the light, you see your troubles, your temptations and your wrongdoings.
3 Let the light show you yourself “Mind the pure light of God in you” which shows the things in you that are not light: let your conscience be stirred. Let the light of Jesus Christ search you. Do not be afraid. It is the light of love.
4 Trace the light to its source Stand in God’s counsel, learn from the light that “you may be led forth in his life and likeness.” God is restoring God’s image in you.
5 Trust the light to show you the alternative. Have courage to stand still in the light: it is the light of your saviour. If you look at your sin, you are swallowed up in it, so look to the light by which you see it instead, and let your focus be on the source.
6 Feel the new life grow “He who follows the light comes to have the light of life.” The Lord has sown a seed in you that lies shut up in the darkness, with winter storms about it. He sends his light to the seed, that with time the new life will grow.
7 See other people in the light “As you abide in the light, the life-light, you will see the kinship that is amongst you, for in the light no self-will, no mastery can stand.” We are all equal before the light.
8 See the world in the light This light lets you see all the world as it is, and keeps you mindful of God.
9 Learn to love in the light Standing in the eternal power and light of God, we have strength to love those who persecute and wrong us; we have light enough to shed light on the paths of those who are against us. This is how we learn to love.
Prayerful reading – for yourself or others
If you find yourself in a dark place, read through the stories again – the woman with the stones, the man born blind. Notice the depth of the pain these two were experiencing, and the easy condemnation. Notice how Jesus responds. Notice how his presence transforms things. Bring your situation into the light of life, inviting Jesus, the light of the world, into your dark place. Allow yourself to lay aside worry, and be lit and warmed by the love that waits for you. Stay in that place for a while.
You can bring someone you love, or a situation, before God in this same way.
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door. Emily Dickinson
Photography, light-writing. Why not take on a photography project, perhaps one of these every day for a week, or take a camera/phone with you wherever you go.
Light-sources in your home/community
Reflections and light effects
the same object or view at different times, in different light.
The same subject using various filters.
You could print off any you like, to pin up, or make into “sending you light” cards.
Living from a place of light.
Jesus calls us not to judge, and yet reminds us to know a tree by its fruit.
Can we develop the discipline of looking at ourselves and others with a clear-sighted vision, which sees truly and yet does not condemn?
This week, seek to lay aside harsh judgements. Perhaps we can seek to learn lovingkindness even in situations of hostility. Kindness to ourselves means we can keep ourselves safe, kindness to others means we do not need to condemn or retaliate.
Perhaps we can begin our own move towards light in the way we interact with each other on line.
Social Media . Think about the arguments in these chapters [of John’s gospel], and compare them to those you encounter on social media and comments sections online. How can we respond in a way which is more like Jesus? How can we be light in this particular dark place?
Scatter the darkness in our hearts, that we may be children of light.
I wrote a poem as darkness fell while I was sitting on the beach. You can read the poem, Light, here.
A prayer for the opening of the eyes (to be said throughout the day)
May I see signs of your kingdom springing up like seeds, working like yeast in the dough.
Thank you. Next week, we’ll be looking at the Shepherd and the Gate.
Please feel free to use any of this material that helps, saying where it is from.