8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’O come, let us sing to the Lord,
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
First let me mention that most scholars believe the letter to the Ephesians was written by a follower of Paul some years after his death. Though it was common, at the time, to write something in the style of an acknowledged leader, and attribute the writing to that person, the language, in the Greek of this letter to the Ephesians, uses phrases which we would not expect to find in genuine writings of Paul.
The earlier chapters of Ephesians celebrate the fact that the community had adopted Christ as its ultimate leader and source of inspiration, and so the people, who had engaged in activities and a way of life inconsistent with Christ’s own teaching, were now reformed. They had been living as “children of the dark” but were now “children of the Light” under the influence of Christ as “the Light of the world.”
One of the themes attributed to Paul is that we are reconciled to God by our righteousness, not by our works, and this has often been used to redirect our attention to being focussed on how we go about life, not what we do. In the letter of James, however, we hear that doing “works” is important. There is no contradiction here, because James tells us that there is a consequence of guiding our lives along the right path, and that is that we will want to do things that please God, so faith in God will result in actions for God. Hence “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good.”
Verse 10 is an exhortation to all of us, in every generation and place. Try to find out what is pleasing to God in every situation. In the current health crisis around the world that means doing the right thing according to the needs of others, rather than ourselves. If we have been infected by the Covid-19 virus Ephesians tells us that we should avoid all but absolutely necessary contact with anyone who hasn’t been infected, even if self-isolation is inconvenient. We are told to take no part in unfruitful works of darkness – read failure to think about the health or safety of others – but to expose those issues and see that they are addressed for God’s benefit, and thus ours. The ways of the world in which we live are “darkness” according to this passage, but the way of Christ is “light”. It is up to all of us, not just the ordained among us, to be witnesses to Christ in this world, and to bring His light. Think of Isaiah 60:1, or Handel’s Messiah with the chorus “Arise, Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
Stepping aside from the health crisis, we can see many ways in which the world around us is affecting us, or trying to do so, and trying to pull us out of Christ’s light into the darkness in which Satan enjoys seeing us. If we have a chance to have Easter services then we will be renewing our baptismal vows, including responses such as “I turn to Christ” and “I reject all that is evil.” If we are true to those responses then we will awaken, the “dead” within us will return to life, and Christ will shine on, or through, us. That concept reminds me of a story about a young child visiting a cathedral and being asked “what is a saint?” to which the child replied, seeing the stained-glass windows displaying several saints, “someone the light shines through.” How many of us are saints by that definition?