“Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying,
‘ I am the light of the world.’”
Year 1: Epiphany VI
St. Mark’s Church
February 13, 2011
John 8: 12-19
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, here we are, in the midst of the service of Evensong, as the sun is setting, singing God’s praises, in the middle of the Season of the Epiphany--or “showing forth” of God in Christ--the Season of Light.
But in a way, it would be hard to tell, as we are surrounded by electric lights that almost obliterate the difference between day and night. And what of all those candles? Are they not superfluous? And yet we do watch the sky darken and catch the light mediated by the stained glass and we must admit that our world is often a pretty dark and scary place, especially at night. Sometimes all the lights of our streets and cities--and even here--only mask our anxiety. Maybe we really are afraid of the dark. Maybe we really are comforted by those candles. Maybe they remind us that we do need Jesus to be our light. But how does this happen and what does Jesus mean anyway claiming himself to be “the light of the world” (?) And what does this mean for us?
I think the way in might be through the words of the Phos Hilaron, the hymn “O Gracious Light” that we sang just a few moments ago. It dates from at least the 3rd century and is among the oldest of Christian hymns in continuous use. Basil the Great (d. A.D. 379) speaks of this hymn as so ancient that no one knows its author. (The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Vol. Two, p. 24) It was sung as the lamps were lit (and still is in Orthodox Vespers--you can see it and hear it on YouTube). Let’s look at the words again from the Book of Common Prayer (p, 64):
Said: O Gracious Light.
Pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven.
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
It is here that we find the very claim Jesus makes of himself in our Gospel reading: I AM the light of the world. The hymn-prayer addresses Jesus: Phos hilaron--O gracious light, quite literally, O happy--O hilarious light--Jesus, the Light that is the source of our joy and our peace as night approaches. Jesus, the merciful and redeeming light, not only of the People Israel, but of the whole world. Jesus, the Light that the darkness cannot overcome.
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is in this second verse that we find the purpose of all these lights and especially all the candles we see. They remind us, who have not seen Jesus in the flesh, that we are surrounded by God in Trinity of Persons and unity of being. Jesus is right here. Knowing this, we will pray for protection through the coming night.
And the final verse:
Thou art worthy at all times
to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
Here another translation and tune might be helpful:
Sung: O Son of God, O source of light,
praise is your due by night and day.
Unsullied lips must raise the strain
Of your proclaimed and splendid name.
Words: William C. Storey, Morning Praise and Evensong
Music: Notre Dame, Jan Robitscher
Unsullied lips... The same joyful light--Jesus--is also a searching light. This light will show us our sins, each and all of us--but it will also be a purifying and merciful light. In this way, we are able to “praise God with happy voices”, no matter how we feel at the moment, for God is worthy of such praise always. And Jesus is not only our light, for us, individually, but for us as a community here; not only for the dark streets of this neighborhood or this city or even our country, but for the whole world.
And Jesus said something else, beyond tonight’s Gospel reading: he said, “YOU are the light of the world.” If we follow Jesus the Light, then what we do in this world matters. We must be the Light of Jesus for those in the darkness of poverty or sickness or prison or despair or, like the people of Egypt in recent days, yearning to be free.
So we gather here for Evensong and hymn the setting sun, light the lamps and sing the praises of Jesus the Light of the world. And we will go from here carrying that Light into a dark and weary world so much in need of that Light--that gracious, happy Light; that light no darkness can extinguish; to whom be praise and glory for ever and ever. AMEN.
COLLECTS AT THE PRAYERS
We thank thee, O God, that thou didst give thy Son Jesus Christ
to be the light to the world, and that in him thou has revealed thy
glory and the wonder of thy saving love. Help us to love thee who
hast so loved us; strengthen us for the service of thy kingdom; and
grant that the light of Christ may so shine throughout the world
that [people] everywhere may be drawn to him who is the saviour and
Lord of all, and the whole earth be filled with thy glory; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
(Parish Prayers, Frank Colquhoun, Ed. #103)
A Prayer of St. Chrysostom
Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord
to make our common supplication unto thee, and hast promised
through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered
together in his Name thou wilt be in the midst of them: Fulfill now,
O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be best
for us; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the
world to come life everlasting. AMEN.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. AMEN.