Archbishop Philip Freier
26 April 2022
Jesus’ words in John 8.12 have been a source of sustained reflection for me over these past months. I mentioned them last month in the context of our journey through Lent. These words are a wonderful reassurance in a time of moral darkness that extends even to the affairs of nations, most notably through war and conflict. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” These words, of course, echo the creation narrative, with light among the first of God’s creations. Just as God sees the light of creation as good so the light that Jesus gives to all who follow him is also good – and not only good but life-giving. Living in the light of Christ is, to follow Irenaeus of Lyons, to show “the glory of God in a human life”.
We know “moral darkness” when we see its effects. The reckless destruction of people and property in Ukraine by the Russian army is a case in point. No wonder there is such tight control over information within Russia and dissembling about the facts of what happened. A regime that acts in this way has the most to fear from the moral conscience of ordinary people. Time and again history has shown us that people are attracted to the light and that, even in the worst of times, the light of Christ shines out through the sacrifice and generosity of ordinary people.
We now know that “moral injury” is a real issue among those who serve under arms. I cannot imagine what harm now adheres so closely to the young Russian conscripts who perpetrated or even just witnessed the atrocities in the occupied cities of Ukraine. We need to guard our own souls from the vicarious effects of things that we see in such graphic detail. Despair, anger or just a sense of futility about life can easily build up in the hearts of people like us so far away from the tragic events we see in news reports.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” These words are rich for us to reflect on, to speak to each other and to hear in our minds as from the Lord himself. “Walking with Jesus in the light of life” can be a physical as well as a mental exercise. Many of us improve our bodily fitness by walking, and we can also hold these words in our thoughts as we walk. Small practices like this can nurture a better awareness of whom we walk with, whom we follow and who is the source of light, life and hope for the world – the Lord Jesus himself. Baptism draws us into the lifelong journey of the integration of head and heart as we grow into the life-changing reality of living in the light. This is a beautiful gift that we have received and that we can share. Jesus calls people of any age and every life experience to walk with him on that illuminated path of peace and joy.