Holy Saturday / The Easter Vigil
The light shines in the darkness,
….and the darkness did not overcome it.
In Detroit, as part of our class preparing young people for baptism, I would take them down into the basement furnace room (technically, a boiler room) of our building built during the depression with used brick the people cleaned by hand. (There was no way those folks were going to abandon that building and their ministry when the neighborhood changed!) I gave each young person a candle, told them to stay still, and turned off the lights. In that deep darkness I would light my candle and, eventually, theirs. The lesson was simple: It doesn’t matter how deep is the darkness; it cannot extinguish the light. And when all our lights are shining, the darkness is driven far away.
For us, in the modern world, darkness is the absence of light, not a substance in itself. We understand why darkness has no power to overcome light. Still, that exercise in the basement was powerful. For ancient Israel, however, the darkness was a substance. God had to separate the darkness from the light in the creating of the world. The light is gathered together creating day; the darkness is gathered together resulting in night. When Jesus says, “If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness,” he is reflecting this understanding of the world. Light was thought to be a substance that emanated from the eyes to grasp the world. Those who cannot see were thought to have darkness within them. When Jesus heals the blind, he is replacing the darkness in them with light. And if Jesus is the “light of the world” he is replacing the darkness in the world with light.
It’s hard for us to fully understand such as way of seeing the world, but it helps us appreciate what it means to say that the darkness was not able to overcome the light. It is not an observation of nature; it is a confession of faith: the darkness will not prevail. It is why John will say in Revelation 21 that there is no night in the New Jerusalem. In that day when God reigns in every heart and all things are made new there will be no more of this dark substance that drives us indoors, hides evil deeds, and shadows the human heart.
When we light the paschal candle, a sign of the risen Christ, and walk into the dark sanctuary, we are making a bold confession: The true light has come into the world. And, as the light spreads to every person, we are anticipating that day when every life shines with the light and love of God.
in a broken world you have raised up the broken body of your Son
that we may turn to you and live.
Wash away all that corrodes the human heart
and raise us each day into life that is true and enduring.
– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent