Every morning this week, these words from John’s gospel have framed the morning prayers in the prayer-book I use. They are good and hopeful words with which to greet a new day. They are appropriate post-Easter words. As is the case throughout John’s gospel, there is this wonderful contrast between the light and the life of Christ and the darkness and death we see all around us. Jesus’ words are true and good and full of strength and hope
And then I walk out the front door… And open the newspaper… And check my messages… And think of friends and loved ones struggling to keep the darkness and death at bay… And wonder about the future…
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness…
But sometimes it seems like we only walk in darkness, never seeing as much as we would like, never knowing as much as we would like, never being able to shake the creeping dread that death and darkness will inevitably steal so much of what is dear to us, always wishing there was more light for the path before us.
… but will have the light of life.
What might it mean to have life as a light? It makes more sense to switch things around, surely. We need light for life. Yes, we could always do with more of this. Light to show us the way, to illumine the path, to give courage and constancy and clarity. But life itself as a light? Hmm. I’m surely guilty of any number of grammatical and lexical sins in my approach to this verse (obviously Jesus is the light of life), but what might it mean to call life a light?
There is much that could be said, I’m sure. But perhaps at the end of it all, “the light of life” means nothing more (or less) than that life is, ultimately, our destination and home. Life, we could say, has ontological primacy over death—it is more real than death, no matter how things might appear from our profoundly limited vantage points of closed horizons and impoverished imaginations. Life is what we were made for. And life is—shockingly, delightfully, unimaginably!—promised by the crucified and risen Lord of life, the one the grave could not contain, the one who holds out his hand and drags all of creation along into newness and peace.
The empty tomb shines like a searchlight in all directions, into past, future and present, pointing a way through darkness and death. It shines stronger and truer than everything from gloomy portents of cosmological entropy to dehumanizing global systems of intractable injustice to the soul-crushing fragmentation of relationships that were once filled with love and joy to the flickering and fading of dementia and other afflictions which ravage precious human minds and lives to any and all of the apparent victories of death and darkness that we are all too familiar with.
In all cases, both great and small, life is the light by which we learn see and to live by the unlikeliest of futures for ourselves and for our world. Life is the light that bespeaks promise and fulfillment. Life is the light that dispels the threatening darkness and leads us home.