When I was a young child, my parents decided that we would take a trip by train to Virginia to visit our relatives on my mother’s side. Because I was so young, I have only a few memories of that train trip. I do not remember where we boarded the train, whether it was in Wisconsin or Illinois, but I do remember that we disembarked at the train station in Richmond, Virginia. I have a number of vague memories of what the train trip was like. I remember my fascination with the train conductors in uniform as they hurried through our train car going about their business. I remember huddling with my siblings as we took in the scenery from the window. I also have a faint recollection of the sensation of motion and the rumbling sound of the train.
Most of the events of that trip have faded from my memory. However, there was one thing that happened on that trip that I recall in detail. We were traveling through a tunnel when suddenly the train came to a halt. The tunnel, of course, was pitch dark, and looking out of the window, we could see only a few beams of light from the lanterns of railroad workers. Someone told us that some rocks had fallen on the tracks at the far end of the tunnel, and we would have to wait until the workers removed them.
This event left an impression on me, because after traveling swiftly in the light of day, we now came to a dead stop in what seemed to me a dark and dreadful place. We had to wait a couple of hours before the workers finished their task and we began to move again. I remember being somewhat frightened by the darkness and experiencing an uneasy, closed-in feeling until the train began to resume its motion. I recall, as well, the relief and joy I felt as we moved from darkness to light.
We are in the Easter season, and during this time, we contemplate the movement from the darkness of Christ’s Passion and death to the glorious light of his resurrection. Throughout the Gospel according to John, the images of darkness and light play a very significant role. In the very beginning of the Gospel, John describes the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in terms of light and darkness: “… the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) The contrast of light and darkness occurs throughout the Gospel, and intensifies during the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus. At the last supper, when Judas left Jesus and the other disciples to arrange the betrayal the Lord, John writes, “And it was night.” (John 13:30b) In the shadows of the garden across the Kidron valley where Jesus and his disciples went to pray, Judas led the soldiers and guards and betrayed Jesus. In the darkened courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied Jesus three times. After Jesus’ death on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea removed his body, and he and Nicodemus placed it in the darkness of the tomb.
On the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb, and thinking that someone had taken his body, ran to tell Peter and John. They came to the tomb and found it empty, just as she had told them, and then returned home. Mary stayed behind weeping, and as morning dawned, she encountered the risen Lord, who then sent her to announce the good news to the disciples.
Later that day, the disciples remained enveloped in the darkness of fear and grief, hiding in a locked room in Jerusalem. Suddenly, the gloom lifted, even though it was evening, when the risen Lord appeared to them and gave them the gift of his peace and reconciliation. He breathed on them, giving them his Holy Spirit. The light of the risen Christ dispelled the darkness of their minds and hearts, and they basked in the radiance of his love.
Thomas, who had not been with the other disciples when Jesus appeared, was caught up in another form of obscurity, that of doubt. Not having shared in the experience of the risen Lord, he would not believe his brothers. Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas’ illumination came a week later when the Lord returned to the upper room and invited him to touch his wounds. Thomas, upon seeing the Lord, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) The light of the risen Lord lifted the darkness of disbelief and doubt from Thomas’ heart.
In his appearances to his disciples, Jesus showed the radiance of his mercy to them, especially to Thomas. Thomas had to see with his eyes in order to believe. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who believe without seeing, or rather, see in the light of faith.
Pope Francis, in his Easter Vigil homily of 2020, noted how the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ fills us hope – hope in our loving God, who is ever faithful. The Holy Father explained, “He did not abandon us; he visited us and entered into our situations of pain, anguish and death. His light dispelled the darkness of the tomb; today he wants the light to penetrate the darkest corners of our lives.”
We do not have to look far to see the darkness of this world. Sickness, poverty, violence, prejudice and injustice obscure our vision and darken our world, but we have reason to hope. The Father has raised up his Son, Jesus, and he promises to do the same for us. He transforms us with his love and teaches us to extend his mercy to those in need. Through our works of mercy, we can bring light and healing to a broken world. Ours is a journey from darkness to light. Through his Passion, death and Resurrection, Christ our Light illuminates our path and guides us to true and eternal life.