The theme of light v. darkness is one that runs throughout the Gospel of St. John. One-third of all New Testament references to light are found in the Fourth Gospel, and half of all references to darkness. John’s use of light to symbolize truth, goodness, and life was typical of the time period, as seen in the literature found in the caves at Qumran and known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Even as early as the third verse of his Gospel account, John writes: “What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
In an ever-darkening world, this is an important statement to remember. Not only is it true that, as John states, the darkness has not overcome the light, but as we know from the salvation brought to all of humanity through the Paschal Mystery, the darkness will never overcome the light. The war is over, and Jesus has claimed victory, yet there still exist the individual battles that need to be settled.
In The Lord of the Rings, after the ring has been destroyed, the hobbits return home to the Shire. In the penultimate chapter of the entire saga, Frodo and his companions must free their homeland from the last remains of the forces of Mordor. The ring is gone, and the power of evil has been struck a mortal blow, yet the peaceful hobbits of the Shire are enslaved under the rule of the traitorous wizard Saruman. Once Saruman is killed by his lackey Wormtongue, the hobbits can live again in freedom and peace, yet they carry with them the realization that they must always be vigilant against any creeping darkness.
And so it is with us. It should be no surprise that the greatest of Catholic literary epics should mirror the reality of Salvation History. Jesus has defeated the darkness of sin and death through the Paschal Mystery, yet even in defeat, there is still a sting in the dragon’s tail, and we must always be on guard lest we be counted among the casualties of a war already won.
Lent is winding down, and in several days the Church celebrates Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion - the opening of the most sacred week of the Church year. We seldom remember that Jesus both begins and ends Holy Week as King since so much of the time is filled with evil, death, and darkness.
The crowd who gathered to greet Jesus at His entry to Jerusalem was not on guard against the sting of the Evil One whose army was still at full strength, and they easily succumbed to the overwhelming darkness. Not only did they become captives of the dark side, but they all became Judases as they shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” on Good Friday.
Vigilance is what was needed then, and it is what is needed today. How wonderfully fitting it is that Peter - who got caught by the darkness - warns the Church in his first letter to “be sober and vigilant. Your opponent, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
We are the people of whom Isaiah spoke when he said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom, a light has shown.” Despite the cheesiness of the near-death experience movie trope “go towards the light,” this is what we are called to do every day of our lives.
The Light of Christ has utterly defeated the darkness, and the Kingdom of God’s light has broken into this world like sunlight breaking through the departing night. Our role is to carry that light to others, always wary of the darkness that can defeat us in battle, yet knowing that it did not - and could not - win the war.