The passion narratives having been read during the week, we come on the Day of Resurrection to read … not an explicit Resurrection narrative, but John 1: 1-17.
The choice of John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God ….”) might seem an odd one, but:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Given the Orthodox emphasis on the Resurrection as Christ’s conquering of death (not – or not exclusively – a vindication of his “His message” or even of the deity of “His person,” as if to say “See? I’m God. I can do anything? Got that, dummies?”), the inability of light to “comprehend” the light takes on added power.
Another reason, however, may be the tradition of receiving Catechumens on Great and Holy Saturday. In other words, their formal catechesis having been completed, adults are received into the Church. We had no litany for Catchumens in the Liturgy today.
But what has that to do with why we read from John today? When I was a Protestant, we passed out the Gospel of John, separately printed, as a veritable evangelistic tract because of what we considered its warmth and accessibility. I believe it’s still the case that Wycliffe Bible Translators will translate and publish the Gospel of John in a new (to Wycliffe) language before any other Scriptures.
But it was not so in the early Church. The early Church actually withheld the Gospel of John from Catechumens, having them learn the facts of Christ’s life from the synoptic gospels. The Gospel of John was considered too theological for a novice. That’s right: the superficially warm and fuzzy Gospel of John is heavy theology!
Therein, no doubt, lies a rather large tale about how historic Christianity and Evangelicalism even conceive theology. Obviously, we’re seeing something more in John than its heart-warmingness. Something, even, that might be missed or misappropriated if John is read to early in a spiritual pilgrimage.
So – or so it seems to me – the Gospel for today from John may be appointed not just for its evocative power, but to continue the instruction of the “Newly Illumined” who were received the day before – and are now “ready for meat” in more than one sense. I wish I were equipped to flesh out this little epiphany better than this, but there it is.