by Father Mike Stubbs
It’s hard to wake up when it’s dark. That’s why many people do not like daylight savings time. That’s why teenagers find it so difficult to attend high school at the early hours their schedule too often demands.
Light helps us wake up. That is the basic point of Sunday’s second reading. But the light in question does not emanate from electric bulbs or radiate from the sun. Rather, it is Jesus Christ, the light of the world. That is why the reading exhorts: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
The Letter to the Ephesians appears to be quoting an early Christian hymn here. That is why the reading prefaces that sentence with the words: “Therefore, it says …” The “it” is presumably a hymn. Some scholars believe that the hymn in question was sung on the occasion of a baptism, and that the sleeper mentioned in the hymn was the newly baptized person.
We know that in the early church, the sacrament of baptism was often associated with light. Some of the early Fathers of the Church even used the word “enlightenment” to refer to that sacrament. For example, St. Gregory Nazianzen, archbishop of Constantinople during the fourth century, wrote in his “Oration on Holy Baptism”: “To know the power of this sacrament is itself enlightenment.”
Even now, centuries later, we associate the sacrament of baptism with light. During the ceremony, the parents and godparents are presented with a candle lit from the Easter candle and told, “Receive the light of Christ. Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as children of the light. May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts. When the Lord comes, may they go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
Perhaps the Letter to the Ephesians is quoting a baptismal hymn because it wishes to draw attention to our status as baptized persons. That is why it reminds us: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
In other words, before you were baptized, you were in the dark. But now you have been reborn through baptism as children of the light. As people fully awake, able to see and work in the daylight, you should produce results in line with your new status. We may have been baptized many years ago. Nonetheless, the Letter to the Ephesians wishes to alert us to the status conferred upon us through that sacrament and to remind us of its responsibilities. If we have been sleeping on the job, it wishes to shake us from our slumber.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”