‘While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
So far this week we have seen Jesus act as teacher, and as one who offers sacrifice; the ancient roles of prophet and priest are being made new – they are being transformed by the thing spoken of by the Father: glory. The Father is glorified by the words of Jesus the new prophet, calling people to repentance; and the Father is glorified in the offering of Christ the new priest. We concluded yesterday that Jesus’ work overcomes darkness – his life is our light – as John tells us in chapter one of the gospel.
‘And that light, was the light of all people’. The one who was called to this task, to be the light of all people, is, we are told to by the prophet Isaiah, the very same one who was ‘called before he was born’, who was ‘named whilst in his mother’s womb’; this man is not only the new prophet, who is at the same time the priestly Messiah, he is the new light which brings salvation not only to Israel but to the ‘ends of the earth’.
What can this mean? As we’ve heard so far, Jesus realises the promises of the Old Testament in his person. He has already said to the disciples: ‘I am the light of the world’, and more than that, he had said it to them whilst he was physically present in the Temple. Such a statement would almost certainly waranted arrest, and yet, John recalls that ‘no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come’.
Today things are different. Today, things accelerate to the ‘hour’ – the hour when death begins to move ever closer, this ‘hour has come’ as we heard in the gospel, and they are wanting to ‘seize him’.
Far from laying low, Jesus now says: ‘believe in the light’. What might be going through the minds of the disciples?
They would have remembered that first instance, when Jesus had spoken in the Temple precincts. Now, he utters those words again, as he prepares for death, the making of his own sacrifice. The disciples would know that in the inner sanctum of the Temple stood the Menorah, the great seven branched candelabra.
The Menorah, a picture of which is on the front of your service sheets, was a reminder that during the most important moment in the history of God’s people thus far – the escape of the Hebrews from Egypt – it was God who had led them through the wilderness into the promised land. And the Father had done so as a light – a light that contained within in it his ‘glory’.
The light which Moses experienced on top of the Mountain when receiving the Commandments was so great that he had to hide his face – he had experienced it before in the burning bush were had had also ‘hid his face’. Now, Jesus is telling them, that God’s radiance, his full power, his immense glory dwells in him – God can be seen in his light. The menorah, the symbol of God’s salvation, is now transformed by, and in, the light which emanates from Jesus Christ. He is the new light – that light that will not only redeem Israel, but as Isaiah prophesied, will stretch to every nation and people on earth. The liberation of the past is taken to the another level in this new Exodus, this new movement from darkness to light.
I mentioned that the Menorah stood at the centre of the Temple, the dwelling place of God, giving a vision of his presence. That same Menorah, also represented something else, intimately connected, the tree of life. The tree was where God’s presence dwelt in the garden of Eden – it was a tree of pure fire – the place where God’s own glory could be seen. The tree was lifegiving. It brought life and light to all.
Today Jesus says ‘when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself’. How is Jesus lifted up? On the wood of the tree! The life giving tree of Eden is now the life giving tree of the cross.
When Christ is lifted up on the cross he brings God’s glory, his immense light into the darkness of this world, into the darkness of sin and in so doing fulfils his task as the one who is the light of the nations; he reveals as we heard from Saint Paul, that the cross is and was ‘the power of God’. The cross of light brings salvation to the ends of the earth.
Jesus Christ, the new prophet calling people to repentance, embodying God’s truth, offering himself as the new priest by a new sacrifice, brings new light. He wants us to share in it – whilst we have the opportunity, he bids us ‘walk in the light’ now. For in so doing, as we will hear tomorrow, he will be our new deliverer: ‘ever ancient, ever new.’