Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2018
The Venerable David Stanton Canon Treasurer and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 11th March 2018 at 11.15 AM
Earlier this month we experienced, and perhaps even enjoyed, a heavy fall of snow. All who have been through such conditions know that snow determines the quality, colour, and mood of light.
Snow is one of nature’s best reflectors and as any photographer will tell you, it’s a great source of light. I say this because the theme of light permeates through our Gospel reading today. (St John 3: 14–21).
From Genesis to Revelation we’re told that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. At one point we hear how he dwells in unapproachable light. Indeed the psalmist records, ‘he decketh himself with light as with a garment.’
This is the light which blazed out at the dawn of the creation and is said to be the source of all life; this is the light which Moses saw in a bush in the desert and which Isaiah glimpsed in the Temple, a light so bright that the seraphim must veil their faces.
This is the light which Peter and James and John saw in Jesus when he was transfigured before them; the light which blinded Saul on the road to Damascus.
This too is the sharp brilliance under which the world is judged, which pierces the darkness and reveals all things and people for what they are, which makes all things new, which gives illumination to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guides our feet into the way of peace.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, we contemplate Christ the light of the world. Today, we are being prepared to welcome Christ the light who in turn will be symbolized by the paschal candle here on Holy Saturday.
So we all become part of that journey to Jerusalem, entering his passion, by daily putting to death sin and rising up in righteousness. As we make this journey there’s also a kind of intensification of the battle between light and darkness, between good and evil.
The Gospel of St John, the Gospel for this month, contains many such contrasts between darkness and light. Here we find that the light of Christ simultaneously illuminates both evil deeds and divine truth, and highlights the fact that judgment is an essential part of salvation.
Though the light brings judgment, its purpose is to lead the way to truth: ‘Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. (3: 17).
When faced with such light, some people retreat back into darkness. John again uses this as a strategy for emphasizing the importance of faith.
Those who do not believe and do not ‘come into the light’ are defined as lovers of darkness. Here John uses metaphors to highlight the risks of rejecting Christ.
This gives his message a great sense of urgency, showing Jesus to be both an expression of God’s salvation, and a revelation of God’s judgment. So those who listen to Jesus are faced with a stark choice, either accept or reject his dramatic claim.
If we accept this great claim then we’re immediately challenged in two particular ways. Firstly as to how the full light of Christ may judge and correct us. Secondly, how the light may radiate through us and illuminate Christ to others.
In terms of judgement and correction, it must be true that the more openly we live, the more likely we are to discern our faults, and to shape the way we may live for the good.
But the real point is that the divine light of Christ is different from all other lights. It’s not just a cold light of truth and judgment. It’s a warm and healing light of forgiveness.
None of us need be afraid to come out of our darkness into the light of Christ, for this light isn’t about condemnation, but rather it’s all about compassion and new creation.
It’s perhaps the supreme vocation of the church to be the place where none of us need to be afraid of our own lives. Yet sometimes, it is only in darkness that we can really see clearly.
You may recall a book called ‘The Blinding Absence of Light.’ It’s a novel about a man who was kept a prisoner for twenty six years in solitary confinement and darkness.
Somehow light shone into his soul and kept him alive and hopeful, but at a terrible cost. The book begins with these words:
‘For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing, if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay protected in my entrails like a secret.’
In the face of such terror, in the face of any injustice or moral collapse or religious corruption, or hypocrisy, there is something in the soul of each one of us, some natural impulse, some deep-down spiritual reflex, that simply rises up, full of the flame of integrity, to respond to it.
Then there’s the joyous privilege of being able to reflect something of the light of Christ through our own lives. The image of sparkling, reflective sunlight on snow comes immediately to mind.
Do you know that a single match in the darkness can be seen five kilometres away? All that darkness defied by a tiny match!
It reminds us that God’s love calls us to walk in this light of compassion and love, not just for ourselves but for each other; to leave the dark paths of deceptive ease and comfort, and blind consumption.
Indeed it’s helpful to remember that God’s love embraces not only our souls, but also all our fractured relationships. Perhaps this is the moment to give a thought to what’s going on in your life just now, and how if you let it, God’s light will shine within you and through you.
This is the light to which St John refers; this is the visual expression of the splendour and glory of God, of the perfect goodness of God, of the aweful holiness of God.
As we draw closer to the very heart of Lent, it’s good to be reminded again that this light of Christ both probes and pierces us, but also bathes us in serene radiance.