In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John 1.1-5; 14)
Today we celebrate the feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist. The Lectionary reading today focus on his letters—but it is the sheer, staggering metaphysics of his Gospel prologue that gets me every time. The mere existence of anything, let alone our ability to perceive it, relate to it, be at all in ourselves, sometimes gives me attacks of vertigo just thinking about it.
I remember, when it was first beginning to dawn on me that there might be something in the Christian faith after all, reading this passage for the first time in a modern translation, and thinking, “Why does no-one teach this at school? This changes everything!” It answered at a stroke all those aching questions that kept me awake in the early hours: at last all the wonderings and speculations and fretful study and inadvisable experiments were superseded by 96 words that were as solid and true as a steel bolt… In a sense, the rest of my life has been an outworking of that moment.
I didn’t then read the opening of John’s first Letter (if letter is what it was supposed to be) but after the immediacy of his Gospel, which I read right through after that experience with the prologue I somehow knew what he meant. If what he had experienced with Christ those three years in Judea and Samaria meant anything, they meant just what he said, and that meant there was no going back, no matter how I struggled:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1.1-10)