No Darkness at All

       Periodically, I will open up my AP News app on my phone to check to see what the latest and current events are. Some days I know that chaos ensues in our country or around the world, so I do so with a bit of dread, and other times I know that some good things have happened and look forward to reading about the details of the events. This week after skimming the articles, seeing hope and chaos weave throughout the headlines, I decided to click the Global “AP Week in Pictures.” In it, I saw a young boy swinging wildly at swarms of locust trying desperately to protect his family’s crops in Kenya, people sleeping on piles of empty oxygen tanks under tattered blankets in Peru, waiting for the clinic to open to refill their tanks for COVID patients, and fireworks exploding at the peace wall in Northern Ireland as conflicts ensue.

       As I read through the small snippets attached to these photos and others from around the world this week, I thought of our passage from 1st John, “God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.” I said it almost like a refrain of prayer with each swipe to the next picture. In God there is no darkness at all, in God there is no darkness at all. To be honest, it is not hard for me to become bogged down by the weight of this world’s darkness. Particularly, I suppose after of a year of a global pandemic and being reminded that our liberation is bound up in each other’s freedom as well. As I kept repeating this refrain, it moved from prayer to affirmation to question – in God there is no darkness at all? How? How is this possible?? How can darkness not exist within God’s presence if this sort of darkness is all over our world. And then I swiped one more time to a stunning picture from Jerome Delay. The photo shows a small line of people with their arms folded in prayer or raised up the heavens as they stand in a grassland field in South Africa. The caption shares that this was part of their Easter morning worship from last Sunday. And then it hit me, “God is light, and in God there can be no darkness at all.”

       This photo of our fellow Christians, halfway around the world struck me as a powerful reminder of who we are. Standing strongly and faithfully, these fellow believers that I will never meet convicted me that even though darkness surrounds us, in God there is no darkness at all. This is not true just because John wrote it thousands of years ago and it’s not true in a sort of denial of all the real darkness that exists in our world, but this is true because when God’s love is our foundation there is absolutely no space for darkness to take hold.

       Our second lesson from 1st John is likely written to a group of new Christians who find themselves beginning to wrestle with their identity, and with what most deeply informs how they work in the world. For John, this identity is shaped by two key things: we cannot claim to follow Christ if we are not grounded in love, and more specifically in this passage, we have to acknowledge that sin is very, very real.

       I think we do ourselves a disservice when we only think of sin as big no-nos, you know, the ones that made it in the Ten Commandments…murder, adultery, theft, etc. Sin, much like the humans that commit it, is much more complicated and complex than an easy list of things you shouldn’t do. Sin, while not exactly a hot topic these days, must be acknowledged, because it is not only very, very real, it is also so diverse that it might be hard to see how sin can arrive out of moments of violence or desperation or fear, not that it’s not just out of a deep disregard of God’s commandments. Like the community to whom John wrote, we have to acknowledge sin; we have to acknowledge the ways in which sin shapes and threatens who we are in our identity as Christians.

       One of our sacramental rites in the Episcopal Church is The Reconciliation of a Penitent, which begins on page 447 of our prayer books, and it helps us to recognize the weight of sin and helps us find our grounding in God’s love. When we are able to honestly take stock of our lives, of our sometimes boring and plain lives, of the things that we have done, and the things we have left undone, and are able to present them openly to God, we have the ability to step into the reconciliation made available to us through the Paschal mystery. At the conclusion of this rite, the priest says, “Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.”

       My siblings, this is a reminder that we cannot go without, and John’s words serve as that reminder today. What happened on the cross is not a “get out of hell free” card, but is a path laid for us wherein which we who are so often lost can be found, a place where we who often feel the burden of death around us can be made alive, and room for us to know God’s peace, which is always more abundant than we can imagine. Confession and repentance grounds us in love, and this isn’t only made available in the Rite of Reconciliation, but it is always possible when we come to God. When we approach our Father in prayer, we never do so alone, but always with the Advocate, with the Spirit at our side. And even you are struggling, and even if you feel incapable and distant from God, believe me when I say that prayer is never wasted.

       While it might seem odd to talk about repentance and reconciliation when we wrapped up Lent over a week ago, but Easter offers us a time to settle into our identity as Christians. Because in truth, we don’t have to wait for the perfect moment to be God’s church or to be the best kind of Christian, we only need to be grounded in love. And when we can look honestly at our lives and admit the ways in which sin has brought darkness into our lives and into the lives of others, we can remember what John said, “God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.” The gift of this Christian life and faith is that we don’t have to hide parts of ourselves; we can let the light shine on all of it and believe that because of the one who died on the cross, we are not beyond redemption. I have a true Easter hope that John meant what he said when he said that in God there is no darkness at all. No darkness at all in war or famine, no darkness at all when our relationships are struggling, and no darkness at all in the face of all the ways that we sin, but this is only true when we confess and repent; this is only true when we follow the crucified and resurrected Messiah. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY via livestream for Easter 2B on April 11, 2021.

Photo can be found from AP Photographer Jerome Delay here.

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