Once there was a tiny church perched in the highest mountains of Switzerland. It was a beautiful church, built with great care by the villagers who lived nearby. Lovely doors, beautiful statues and pews, a magnificent sanctuary. But there was one thing it didn’t have.
It didn’t have any lights. There was no electricity.
Yet every Sunday evening, the people who lived on the mountain-side opposite the tiny church saw something truly wonderful happen. The church bell would ring, and worshippers would make their way up the mountainside. They didn’t notice anything at first, but once inside, the church would suddenly brighten in a matter of minutes.
You see, the people brought unlit lanterns with them. Once inside, they would light their lanterns and hang them around the church on pegs set in the walls, and the light would fill the nave. If only a few people came to church the light would be very dim because there would only be a few lanterns. But when lots of people came, there would be an abundance of light.
After the service, when evening darkness had arrived, and the villagers would take their lanterns home. From afar, this looked like streams of light pouring out of the church and flowing over the mountainside.
For many who saw this, it was a sign that all was well. God’s light was with those people. The only time the little church lit up was when people were there. That’s when it truly became a church. That’s when the light shone strongest.
It’s easy to see the joy and peace in that story. But how many times have we felt like we don’t have a lantern? That we are on the other side of the mountain, in the dark, not connected to all those wonderful people? Or, maybe becoming complacent with our lantern, but become too busy to worry about everyone else out there, in the darkness. In fact, maybe because of their words or actions, we are happy they are in the dark. Or, maybe we even deliberately extinguished their light through gossip or lack of caring.
I guess it’s sort of like Leviticus, our first reading. The bottom line is if someone got this disease, leprosy, they are out. People are instructed to tell everyone they have the disease, and then go live alone, outside of camp. Sure, they need to keep everyone safe, but the message is clear: if you are unclean, you are not one of us. You are not part of our community. No mercy, no compassion.
Now, if that were you or I, and we had leprosy, what would we be thinking?
I would be thinking: I want a lantern. I need a cure. I don’t want to be separated from the people I love. I don’t want to be cut off my community. That’s not the way things are supposed to be.
See, we all want to live in the light of our community, to feel connected. And maybe, in little ways, we are cut off. Maybe you don’t feel connected when you are laid off from your job. Maybe you don’t like waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to come into your life. Maybe you don’t like getting ‘wait listed’ for the college of your choice, the high school of your dreams. You don’t feel connected to everyone who is healthy on your second or third visit to the hospital to find out what’s wrong with you.
When those things happen, we feel like we are outside the light. We are suffering.
Maybe that’s why there is so much consolation in the words from the leper today.
“If you wish, Jesus, you can make me clean.”
If you wish, You can give me a lantern. If you wish, You can make me complete. Think about it: we can leave church this morning, holding our lantern high, being a light to others. I’d like to think that even though my life isn’t perfect, maybe I look at myself as a leper at times, maybe I need to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation right about now, I am not going it alone.
We have each other. Our Church is so well lit.
And maybe that’s our challenge today.
Let’s try to imitate the one who knelt down before Jesus, the one who wanted to be part of the light. He asked God to take him out of the darkness, and Jesus heard his prayer. He received his lantern, and went out and did something wonderful.
So why not us? We receive the Eucharist, let’s go out and do something wonderful. Let’s live in the light, and pray for those who do not. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Let’s hold our lanterns high.
For you are a light for others, a light on a hill, the light of God for all to see.