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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The risen Christ is the light of the world– Jn 8:12

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Every Easter celebration in the Catholic Church begins with the Easter Vigil service of light we celebrate in all parishes in the Diocese. We gather around a fire outside the Church and the priest declares Christ as the light of the world in his opening prayer and blessing of the fire. He, subsequently, marks the Paschal Candle with meaningful figures and symbols of our faith. He first marks the sign of the Cross, traces the Greek alphabets Alpha and Omega above and below the Cross, inscribes the current year between the arms of the Cross, and inserts the five grains of incense on the Cross to symbolize the five wounds of Jesus. The Easter Candle is then lit from the fire and the priest says, “may the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our minds and hearts.” The priest and parishioners process into the Church and he proclaims Christ as our light at three different stages of the procession. The Easter Candle is finally placed on its stand and we light our candles from it to show that Christ is our source of light in our journey through life.

The lights of the Church are then switched on for the deacon or priest to sing the Easter Proclamation or Exultet and part of this song declares that darkness has vanished forever because the risen Christ now shines upon us. That Christ is the Morning Star, who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on the human race. So, the Church’s celebration of the feast of Easter begins and centers around the light of the risen Christ that dispels the darkness of sin, evil, and death in our world. I will, therefore, focus my Easter message on the Risen Christ as the Light of the World. This will enable us to fully appreciate the meaning of light in our celebration of Easter and also follow the light of the risen Christ in our journey through life, especially, in moments of uncertainty, despair, and fear.

In Genesis’ account of creation, natural light was what God first created on the first day after he created the heavens and the earth. He said, “let there be light,” and there was light and he divided the light from darkness that covered the face of the earth. The light was good and God called the light day and darkness he called night. So, the reason why God created light at the beginning of creation was to dispel darkness from the earth and it was very good in God’s sight. He even created more lights on the fourth day; he created the sun and moon in Gen. 1:14-19 to govern day and night respectively.

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They were intended in v. 18 to separate light from darkness. Daylight and moonlight were, therefore, designed by God so that the earth and God’s creatures will not dwell in the shadows of darkness. God’s gift of light should, for that reason, be treasured and fully utilized for the good of all. No one will then live and walk in fear of darkness and be lost without any sense of direction. We should, therefore, be grateful to God for his gift of light that he created to dispel the darkness that overshadows the earth. It clearly enables us to see the goodness and beauty of God’s creation and it also guides us in our journey and activities in life.

Both light and darkness were created by God but God never intended the human race to use the cover of darkness to commit crime and sin. He was, therefore, displeased with Adam and Eve when they tried to hide themselves in the Garden of Eden after they sinned against him. But they could not hide from him because God discovers every sin and crime that is committed even under the cover of darkness. In Gen. 6:5-8, God saw that, “the wickedness of the human person was so great on earth and that every imagination of his heart was evil. And God regretted creating the human person on earth. He was grieved and decided to blot out the human person he created from the face of the earth.” The light is, therefore, what genuine, sincere, god-fearing, loving, and caring people prefer than darkness and obscurity. Unfortunately, Jesus himself said in Jn. 3:19 that, “the light has come into the world but human being slove darkness, rather, than light because their deed sare evil.” This statement clearly affirms the goodness and benefits of light over darkness because darkness covers and promotes evil but light exposes sin and evil. We should, therefore, ensure that we live and work in the light and also shed light on what is done in our society under cover of darkness.

In their forty years journey to the Promised Land through the desert, God’s chosen people were guided and protected by God. They were never abandoned by God so they were never on their own throughout their journey. Even when they were disappointed with God and his servant Moses as a result of their trials and temptation, God was still with them to direct them. God went ahead of them in Ex. 13:21-22 in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them and also in a pillar of fire by night to guide them. So, God was not just with his people, he also led them with his unfading light during the day and night.

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They did not equally go astray in their journey to the Promised Land. Even, when they were pursued by king Pharaoh’s mighty army, it was from the pillar of fire and cloud, we are told in Ex. 14:24-25, that God looked down on the Egyptian army and he threw the whole army into confusion that they could not advance towards his people. God was, therefore, the one who saved his chosen people from their enemies through the pillar of cloud and fire. His unfading light that guided them in their journey to the Promised Land is also meaningful for us. For, the pillar of cloud and fire prefigured and signified the light of the risen Christ for all humanity.

The difference between light and darkness, day and night, life and death, and goodness and evil was vividly illustrated in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He personified and reflected God’s divine life, light, and power over darkness, evil, and death throughout his life. In Jn. 1:4, St. John testified that, “in him was life, and that life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome the light.” As the Son of God, Jesus was both life and light. The forces of darkness, evil, and death could not, therefore, prevail against him when he came into this world to save humanity from sin and death. He testified in Jn. 8:2 that, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” So, he defined and distinguished himself as the light of the world and he fully assured those who believed in him that they will not walk in darkness. They will have the light of life because he is both the life and light of the world. This was reaffirmed in Jn. 9:5 when he told his disciples that, “as long as he is in the world, he is the light of the world.” Jesus was, therefore, the life and light of the world even before his death and resurrection. He raised Lazarus to life, restored the sight of the blind, revealed God’s mercy to sinners, and enlightened the minds and hearts of those in darkness of sin and error. Finally, he conquered the power of darkness, sin, and death when he rose from the dead and proved himself the light and life of the world and the human race.

The risen Christ is duly the life and light of the world who enlightens the hearts and minds of his believers and God’s people. He is, therefore, proclaimed by the Church in the Exultet as, “the Morning Star, who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind.”

We should not equally live in the dark and the shadows of ignorance, falsehood, idolatry, evil, and death as followers and believers in Christ.

For, his resurrection from the dead has dispelled the fear and power of evil, sin, and death in our world. He should, therefore, be recognized, adored, and proclaimed as the life and light of the world. Otherwise, our celebration of the feast of Easter will be meaningless and useless if we still dwell in darkness after the risen Christ has dispelled the power of darkness, evil, and death.

The light of the risen Christ should dispel our doubts and fears and enlighten our minds and hearts. For, we were once in darkness, according to St. Paul in Eph. 5:7-10, but now we are light in the Lord. We should, therefore, walk as children of the light and do all that is good, right, and true and learn what is pleasing to the Lord. This is what is required of all believers of the risen Lord. Our conduct and deeds should reflect and manifest the light of the risen Christ who is the life and light of the world. Our risen Lord is now our source of inspiration, vision, values, and convictions in life. We should, therefore, be guided and enlightened by him so that we will not be confused or misled, especially, in times of trial, difficulty, and uncertainty. This will enable us to really experience the power and radiance of the light of the risen Christ in our journey through life. It will also motivate to share his light with our fellow human beings who have not yet recognized him as the light of the world. We too should proclaim the risen Christ as the light of the world and share our experience of his victory over darkness, sin, evil, and death; the same way the women who first encountered and experienced his radiant light shared their joy with his disciples. For, Easter is not only a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It is also a time to bear witness to the presence and power of the risen Christ in our midst.

On this day we proclaim the risen Christ as the life and light of the world, I wish all the priests, religious, deacons, seminarians of the Diocese of Banjul, our Christian brothers and sisters, Muslims, and believers of other faiths, and all Gambians at home and abroad a very peaceful, joyful, uplifting, and meaningful Easter celebration. May you experience in your lives and homes the unfading light, guidance, power, and presence of our risen Lord. Amen!

Your Servant in Christ,

Most Rev Dr Gabriel Mendy CSSp

Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.

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