Meditations for Holy Week – Wednesday “I am the Light of the World”
The service of Tenebrae is a service of shadows, which highlights the contrast between light and darkness. It is a meditative experience, the service itself being held in semi-darkness, and is meant to set the mood for the somber days which follow. It draws on the symbols of light and darkness, which reflect the mood and message of Holy Week, and begins to open us to “compassion” (suffering with), the identification of ourselves with the suffering Jesus.
The images of light and darkness are familiar to us from both the Hebrew Scriptures and from the New Testament. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see God as the creator of light (Gen. 1:3) and as a Being of Light (Ps. 27:1). The prophets spoke of God’s coming as a light which penetrates the darkness (cf. Isa. 60:1-3, 19). In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as the light which fulfills the promise of Isaiah (Matt. 4:16). When the infant Jesus is brought to the temple to be dedicated to God, Simeon recognizes Jesus as the light that has come (Luke 2:32). In John’s gospel, Jesus claims to be the Light of the World (8:12), and this image becomes a key metaphor for Jesus in the Johannine community (I John 1:5-7 and 2:8-11).
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the World takes place in the context of the Festival of Booths. During this festival, the people of Israel recalled the journey through the wilderness in which they had been guided by God’s light (Exod. 13:21). The “Shekinah” or “the glory of God” accompanied them, appearing as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. When Jesus claims to be the Light of the World in the context of this festival, he is implying that he is the Messiah, the one who has come to show the way. He is claiming to be God’s light, a light that will overcome the darkness of the world.
The theme of darkness and light is at the heart of one of Jesus’ “signs” in the Fourth Gospel, namely the healing of the blind man in John 9. In this healing story, the man is delivered not only from his physical blindness, but also from his spiritual blindness. He comes to faith in Jesus. In contrast to this man, who by believing in Jesus has come to see, the Pharisees are depicted as blind guides, who refuse to see. The use of this imagery – light vs. darkness, sight vs. blindness – is prevalent not only in John’s gospel, but in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) as well.
John emphasizes that there are several possible responses to the Light which is coming into the world in Jesus. Some will welcome the Light and come to believe (e.g. the blind man, Jesus’ disciples and friends, and the Johannine community). But others will refuse the Light and choose to remain in darkness (e.g. those who reject Jesus’ message, the Pharisees, and ‘the Jews,’ those who have separated themselves from the Johannine community). Others are undecided or secretly committed to Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus).
In our prayer today, we are invited to explore this image of Jesus as the “Light of the World.” In what ways has Jesus’ coming penetrated the darkness of our world, and the darkness of our own lives? In what ways are we blind, or refusing to see? Where do we need this Light to shine to further our own conversion and transformation?
See other days offerings:
- Maundy Thursday: “I am the Bread of Life.”
- Good Friday: “I am the Good Shepherd.”
- Holy Saturday: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”