In the prologue of John’s Gospel, the evangelist makes the claim that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John1:5) I would agree with the Gospel writer that darkness does not snuff out light; but in my experience a more powerful statement could be made -- light ruins darkness. I know a host of people whose night’s sleep is ruined by the glow of a digital clock, or the infiltration of a street light through wind-wafted curtains. And I remember the bone tingling terror of being in absolute darkness years ago in the well of Wind Cave in South Dakota, but then having the fear disappear – and the darkness destroyed, when we turned on our flashlights.
Much of our liturgical practice is organized around the power of light. In Advent, each week we bring a little more light into the darkening world with the lighting of an additional candle. At Christmas, when John’s prologue is read – we claim that light is born into the world.
Last week – Holy Week, was a journey into deeper darkness. Some of us attended mid-week Tenebrae services, which literally means ‘shadows’ – and which foreshadows the darkness of the rest of the week. When Jesus breathes his last on Good Friday, the Gospels report that darkness covered the face of the earth. And it is in darkness (the darker the better) that the Easter Vigil begins.
And then there is light. The light of dawn; the light of the Resurrection. The Gospels do not describe a brilliant light. They didn’t need to. Easter announces the end of darkness and the reign of a new light. It is a Christ-given light that can mysteriously and wondrously seep into the body and kindle the soul – forever.
It is not a blinding light, but a life changing one. And it is a lot to absorb. It is no surprise to me that Easter is a seven-week season; it takes most of us at least fifty days to fully absorb this unearthly, magnificent light.
But absorbing the light is only the first half of it. We are then invited – no, we are challenged; actually we are expected to become bearers of the light to the places of darkness in the world. It so happens that God is already working in those places of darkness, but we have been trained not to see God in those places. Truth be told, most of us have been taught to stay away from those “God-forsaken places” (which is perhaps the most malignant metaphor there is). But when the darkness is exposed with light, the presence of God in that darkness kindles even more light – and in no time at all it becomes a powerful spiral of abundance.
The more I am in this diocese, the more impressed – even astounded, I am by the confidence and courage that parishes, people and diocesan-based or diocesan-sponsored ministries demonstrate in daring to be bearers of Christ’s light. My experience of this diocese is that it has a commitment to expose – with Christ’s light and love, the pervasive lie that there are God forsaken places and people. I am inspired by the amount of Gospel-driven ministry to which people are committed.
I believe that Easter reflects God’s desire to destroy darkness. I believe that Easter reveals not only God’s extravagance – but God’s stewardship: everything and everyone can be set free from darkness.
I have learned over the years that the Easter light makes me – makes all of us, a co-conspirator in God’s creation. I have learned that when I engage in a discipline of giving – of time, talent and especially of treasure, that creation is moved forward, light is kindled and a little more darkness is sent empty away. One of the most important exercises I have adopted in my twenty-eight years of ordained life is learning about proportionate giving, and – over time, developing the practice of giving a tithe, or ten percent, to support God’s campaign to destroy darkness by contributing to entities that do God’s work in the world. In the last five years, the commitment to tithe has been written into our Will: that at least the first ten percent of my wife’s and my estate will be divided between the parish I served in Massachusetts, to this diocese in which I now serve as bishop – and to other organizations and ministries to which we have a strong commitment.
In the next few weeks, I will be reconstituting a Planned Giving task force – to educate and assist people across the diocese about opportunity of legacy stewardship – in which people can make provisions in their Wills to have their abundance – be it limited or extensive, provide light to ministries long after they die.
It is yet another way in which we can confidently and courageously be the bearers of Christ’s light.
+Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark