According to David Bentley Hart, a scholar and translator of Christian scripture, these opening verses of John are the most obtuse and impossible to translate in the entire New Testament. That’s saying a lot, I imagine. Hart notes that in the early church’s struggles to articulate and proclaim a uniform message—a creed—these few verses were used to support numerous conflicting claims.
All of which is to say that the first few verses of John are ultimately impenetrable to even the most dedicated scholars. They always have been. So more than anything else, exploring these verses invites us into Mystery. Much of this mystery depends upon the word Logos—the Word. The Word has been with God since the beginning. The Word was essential to the creation of everything and anything. And the Word became incarnate; it pitched a tent among us…it made its home in a human body…and appeared as the One we know as Jesus. The Light.
Light, we now know, is two things at once. It is both particle and wave. Light manifests as waves of electromagnetic energy. And it appears as packets of energy called photons. As we presently understand it, physical light is a both/and element in our world.
In a way, the Christ pointed to by today’s scripture is also a both/and presence. We learn of the historic Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth. The healer, teacher, proclaimer of peace, and prophet. The One who died on a cross and resurrected. The One who showed the world the Light. And we learn of the Cosmic Christ. The One present with and within all of creation. The One who, according to a well-known song “danced in the morning when the world was begun…danced in the moon and the stars and the sun”…and then came to birth among us.
Historic Jesus. Cosmic Christ.
And so, according to a number of theologians such as Ilia Delio, the person of Jesus reveals to us that “Love is the reason everything exists, and God is love.” (Unbearable Wholeness of Being, 120). “Every leaf, cloud, fruit, animal, and person is an outward expression of the Word of God in love.” Jesus, the incarnation, a “personal word of love…exemplifies the meaning and purpose of all creation…the praise and glory of God in a communion of love.” (ibid., 121)
Delio, and other contemporary theologians such as John Philip Newell and Matthew Fox, draw upon others from across the centuries in their understanding of the incarnation as proclaimed by John. All of which can sound a little irrelevant to everyday life. All of which, I suppose, might make us wonder why any of this theology matters….
…but here’s the thing. Drawing in part on the opening words of John, Delio and others suggest that Jesus did not come into the world because of human sin. Jesus incarnates the Holy One in order to “reawaken in us what we have forgotten.” (John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, 28). Jesus reveals the Light of love and shalom, joy and ultimate harmony in the cosmos in order to remind us of our own Light, our own participation in the Love that creates and cradles all.
This is important. And controversial theologically. Jesus did not come as a sacrifice of atonement because humans are otherwise irredeemable and essentially awful sinners. Jesus did not come to scold us or make us ashamed or inflict guilt. Jesus came to show us who we really are…to wake us up to our intimate connections with everything and the love pulsing through us all. And to exemplify a commitment to love in the face of suffering. (Delio, 132)
What would it be like to be awake? What would change within us and in the world if we let the Light of Jesus wake up, spark, our own truest, inner light? All would change…we would know, for example, that we are loved…that grace is a growing awareness of that love. And we would live as lovers…honoring all of creation, ceasing our exploitation of the planet, knowing that we cannot hurt another without also harming ourselves. And living with an aim toward relationship and union…We would no longer have reasons to fight, to exclude, to reject, to hate, to disdain, or to fear. Richard Rohr goes so far as to say that the future of Christianity, perhaps the future of the world, depends upon us embodying this reality.
The historic Jesus points us toward the communion of all things through and within the Cosmic Christ, you might say. We live in union with all. The earth and all within it…the universe still expanding and exploding…all of what we know and do not know…participates in the original Word. The Cosmic Christ. The Light and All-permeating love. “A mature Christian,” says Richard Rohr, “sees Christ in everyone and everything else. That is a definition that will never fail you.”
And, I will add, that is a light that can shine always in our lives.
And the communion we celebrate today is a sign and remembrance of a communion with all, the communion that Christ awakens us to.
-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk
Scripture: John 1:1-13