What’s worse than being ill? … being ill at night! You’re huddled there, sweating and shivering and aching. You feel like death—in fact you half wish that death would at least get it over with—you feel like death and there in the middle of it all you find yourself wishing the light would come, wishing day was here, wishing night would end. We’d rather be ill by daylight. But why? The ache’s the same. The fever, the shakes, the same. But somehow having them in the light seems different. Easier to bear? Less isolated? Somehow we feel safer when day dawns. So we long for the shades to brighten and night to give way to day.
That’s one experience—when the ache is physical—but I imagine we all also know a parallel longing for the dark. When the ache is emotional, the misery mental, when life seems too much like a pathless wood, when the day is grey inside and clouded. Why, then, we can long for dark to fall and cover us, for light to fade and hide us from other peoples’ joys and our own pretence, for the day just to be over so we can sleep and forget.
If we are honest we have known the attractions of darkness just as we have felt the longing for light. And in both—at the end of our tether—we have cried out in pain and need and rage: Help me God I am beyond helping myself! Save me, I cannot save myself!
Salvation, liberation, healing, justice, eternal life, a new creation. Early and often has the human race cried out in pain and need and rage. Early and often, says the Chronicler, has God sent messengers of freedom and salvation.
We all want salvation. We all want liberation. For ourselves and for others. But it seems the price of freedom has been too much for us to pay, the weight of glory too much to bear. For we are still crying out and still lying in the dark pleading for light and still waiting in the twilight for the dark to hide us. Even though we have heard the gospel’s ringing promise that salvation has been given. “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” So says John: the light has come into the world once and for all; a light shining in the darkness which the darkness cannot extinguish. A sign of healing lifted up for all to see so that all might believe in God’s love and be saved. But John also knows there’s a catch: Jesus saves, yes, but Jesus reveals. The light of the world that casts shadows, separates light from dark. Where there had been tones of gray there is now sharp contrast. God sent the Son into the world to save it but his coming has been a judgement—literally a crisis. And the crisis is this: before, in the twilight, our options were hidden but now the light shines and the shadows are clear. The world now has fewer options. “Maybe” will no longer do as an answer. Only “yes” or “no.” Which is it going to be: the light or the dark? Since Jesus came there is no evading the choice. A choice that ought to be easy, thinks John.
But it hasn’t been. This is John’s scandal. This is what John can barely believe. That the light has come into the world and yet the world has loved darkness better. How can it be that when salvation is on offer—free, gratis, and for nothing—how can it have been so rejected? He came to his own but his own would not receive him. The light came but we tried to extinguish him. How could we do it? Why is the choice so hard?
There’s a Lenten question for us! If we so want salvation, healing, freedom, why do we so prefer to be lost, to be sick, to be bound? Why do we so prefer to lose, to sicken, to bind? As Lent carries us closer to the drama of Holy Week it must bring us, too, to a crisis. What are we afraid of? What are we hiding? What keeps us out of the light? It’s not as if we had to be perfect—my God, that’s why we need salvation in the first place—we just need to be willing to come out of hiding and to let the light shine on us with all our complex mixture of good and bad, of strength and weakness, of vice and virtue. On pain and need and rage. We just need to be willing to be who we are. To let the light reveal our wholeness so that we might love ourselves the way that God loves us.