With a marvellous poetic flourish, Meliton of Sardis, a second-century Church father, describes how the sun regenerates and purifies itself every day in a veritable baptism in the sea, a bath "in cold water without going out because it possesses a fire that never falls asleep". This mystical immersion chases away the darkness of the night and generates the luminous day: a trace of pure light that also allows the moon and the entire firmament to follow suit. Man cannot remain indifferent in the face of such a spectacle, whether in past centuries or today. The sun speaks to us and becomes for us an image in which the Mystery is recounted, in which God allows himself to be known and loved.
"Now, if the sun washes in the stars and the moon in the sea, why should Christ not also wash in the Jordan"?
Thus, with poetic simplicity and at the same time with a spiritual depth that touches the mind and heart, Bishop Melitone compares Christ to the sun. Indeed! Christ is the Sun! And it is Scripture itself that says so, presenting us with "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9).
Christians, the 'children of light' (Lk 16:8), from the earliest centuries contemplated the daily rebirth of the sun as a symbol of the Resurrection and, as Tertullian wrote, the East, where the sun is born, is the image of Christ: Oriens, Christi figura. This is why the Christians of the first communities, in order to pray, turned towards the place of the rising sun. Their prayer was towards the East: a prayer, indeed, oriented! Precisely towards the place where "the sun of justice will rise with beneficial rays" (Ml 3:19).
The praying man, the symbol of the praying man found in many Christian catacombs, is often depicted standing with his arms to the sky and his head turned towards the sun. The need for oriented prayer was so fundamental to Christians that even the stones translated the symbol. The first churches were also oriented and the faithful prayed facing east. This was the complete opposite logic to that of the Greek theatre, which had to be oriented towards the West so that the climax of the tragedy could coincide with the setting of the sun, a sort of modern day curtain-raiser. The altar, the symbol of Christ, also had to face the rising sun and the whole assembly, presbyter and faithful, celebrated the Eucharist in that direction. This awareness was rooted in Scripture as much as in the experience of daily life. This is what Clement of Alexandria came to write:
"Let us welcome the light so that we can welcome God. Let us welcomethe light and become disciples of the Lord".
In a society that is losing its taste for poetry, that tends to downgrade the importance of a figurative language to narrate Beauty... perhaps we should still have the courage to direct our prayer and with it our whole life. Perhaps we should still feel the desire to wake up early in the morning, like the women who ran to the tomb. Perhaps we should go back to hearing the crowing of the cockerel, another Christian symbol of the Resurrection, and wait anxiously for dawn to break... The Mystery cannot be explained, if we did it would no longer be so. The Mystery can be told, the Mystery can be tasted in a language that knows how to speak of Heaven, that knows how to speak of the Infinite. For this reason, a rising sun can tell us the mystery of Easter, of death, of the hiding in the tomb and of the Resurrection in a more effective way, for the mind and the heart, than many sermons or speeches...
The charm of a new sun in the sea breeze in the morning perhaps has a fragrance of Hope that could hardly be described in words. And the heart of our faith beats precisely "early in themorning, on the first day after the Sabbath, ...at sunrise" (Mk 16:2) because a voice is calling us:
"Arise, thou that sleepest, and be thou delivered from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light"!
We are called to respond to the miracle of the Light. We are called to wake up, to stand up and raise our hands to Heaven. We must find the strength to turn, to convert and to gaze upon the true light, the "gentle light" as Cardinal Newman called it, the light of Hope that comes to visit us like "a rising sun". Newman called it, the light of Hope that comes to visit us like "a rising sun" (Lk 1:78).