Lent 1: Light – God’s presence bringing purpose and hope


This year we are travelling through Lent with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, ‘Saying Yes to Life’ by Ruth Valerio. Three groups are meeting during the week and on Sunday, the sermon will explore some of the issues in the coming week’s chapter so that we can all join in. The book is based on the first creation story in the Old Testament book of Genesis (1:1-2:3). I  spoke on Wednesday about God as creator; the creation being the action of his will and purpose. I drew a comparison with another creation story circulating in Babylon when this one was written, the Enuma Elish. This sets creation in the context of a battle between squabbling gods. It is therefore the  random by-product of struggle, conflict and violence. The Genesis story is very different. God wills the world into being, speaks it and it is the object of his delight. We owe our origin to divine love and so there is hope in this purpose and plan. We are not a disposable by-product but willed and wanted.

For the Old Testament reading each week we will be using the one that accompanies the chapter in the book for that week and so today we explore light.

“Let there be light”, and there was light. God saw the light and it was good. (Genesis 1:3)

Light is a sign and symbol of God’s presence. The passages which underline this are numerous and rich. ‘The word is a lantern to our feet and light upon our path.’ God’s glory is radiant. Light banishes darkness and ‘the darkness is not able to overcome it’. We stumble in the dark, we see our way in the light. With light there is order, there is direction, there is beauty.

Light is complex. We will all know the science demonstrations where light is shone through a prism and its constituent spectrum is revealed,  the same principle we see on a rainy day with a rainbow as the light of the sun is reflected, refracted and dispersed through the water droplets. This light brings colour, even for those of us who struggle with certain parts of that spectrum. The colours of the rainbow, the visible spectrum of light excites imagination and brings a rich variety to the world. 

The colours of the rainbow have long been associated with moods and characteristics.  There seems to be something deeply resonant in them and these are reflected in the colours used in our vestments for the church’s year.

Red stands for violence. The colour of blood is used for the martyred saints, whose witness led them to their deaths. Red is also the colour of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s love. Fire is hot, passionate and powerful. So the passions of violence can also be the passions of desire and action. Red stands for active love, resilient love and enduring love.

Orange is the colour of hope. It is bright and in the fruit that bears its name refreshing and rejuvenating. Hope is the fire in the heart that brings the light of God’s purpose to shine in glory and wonder. It can give us the energy and drive we need to carry on and go forward.

Yellow is the colour of joy. Another bright colour, it is the sun shining, warming and bringing the spirit and heart to skip. A bright sunny day fills the heart with joy and lifts the spirit. Yellow is a colour for celebration and we use yellow, or gold, perhaps an amalgam of yellow and gold, for major celebrations which mark the glory of God in Jesus Christ – Christmas, Easter, moments when hope and joy are centre stage.

Green is the background colour of nature. It is lush and fresh, the colour of grass and leaves. This is used for the long summer months of ordinary time in worship, when life grows and flourishes. At this time of year, in March, when it is still a bit cold, we can look with longing eyes to the warmth of spring and summer, to the green season when nature is at its most splendid. We also see the signs of its dawning as fresh green shoots begin to emerge. We rely on the natural world for our life and these chapters are concerned with the environmental challenge we face. How we green our living, our praying, our planning is a serious question to face.

Blue is the colour for possibility. Intriguing as a link, but the blue sky and blue sea are vast expanses which stretch out before us and so much is beyond our gaze. So perhaps the origins of possibility come through the blue sky gazing and thinking, the looking out to sea and wondering what is beyond. It is also the colour associated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who brought the possibility of his presence among us to birth. In Mary possibility becomes reality in her ‘yes’ to God. It can do the same in ours.

Indigo stands for love. As a natural colour additive, Indigofera Tinctoria whitens. It is an optical enhancer, restoring washing that has yellowed, especially in hard water, and is used in cosmetics. It purifies the look. Likewise, love purifies what has become tarnished. Love brings us alive and revives. As a deep blue, the depth of love and its strength are implied. 

Violet stands for destination and so it is a good colour for Lent and Advent. During these seasons we think of our goal and the journey to get there. We are aiming to deepen faith, hope, joy and grow in possibility and love. The rainbow is with us.

There are, of course, colours outside our visible spectrum at the ultraviolet level and the infrareds. Light shines even when we are not able to see it and there is a hope beyond our gaze. 

When we think of light, and the greening of our thinking and planning, we naturally turn to how we generate it. The development of renewable energy and low emissions is called for all the more urgently. The serious climate change challenge to prevent the earth’s temperature rising by more than 1.5°, calls us to reduce our CO2 emissions. There is no option on this. The challenge is acute and we have to rise to it or we will perish. The science is now so clear and we are seeing the effects in floods and winds, heatwaves and droughts, the extreme weather in both winter and summer. This is affecting communities in this country and in the poorest parts of the world. The climate activists, not least the young who demonstrated in Bristol on Friday, are sounding the alarm. If that warning is to turn to hope it has to be developed into actions and changes. There are things we can all do and there are things which need to be on the macro level. Even at that global level we have the power of lobbying and when a voice becomes a shout it becomes unignorable; those who try to ignore it will be moved aside. 

Day 1 of Creation brings light. It brings colour and purpose, God’s presence to shape the chaos into a world of love and desire. With light comes the possibility of teeming life, which will follow in the coming days or weeks. It brings hope and joy, the purposed journey towards a destination. It brings passion and endurance, resilience and action. 

“Let there be light”, and there was light. God saw the light and it was good. (Genesis 1:3)

In that light we live and move and have our purposed being, because the world is not the by-product of squabbling gods, but the active will of God’s presence. With its colour pallet, light shows this presence and brings the possibilities into being so that there is hope and joy. Be carriers of that light as people of hope and promise in Christ, who aim to make a difference to the glory of God.

Sermon for Lent 1, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 1st March 2020

About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare's Church - Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus', was published by Sacristy Press in 2017. There is a hymn based on this 'Christ the Saviour'. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his posts and on social media.
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