Used by permission of Orthodox Church in America

Ephesians 5:8-14; John 8:12-30

This is a sanctuary of light, especially in the early morning and late evening. The light in here is rich, warm, and indirect, like God’s light filtered through the world. God’s Light reveals the truth, in both its positive and negative sides. It doesn’t always “brighten” our world. That’s why Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world didn’t make everyone happy.

There’s an iconographic tradition of drawing a deep blue-purple “light” around Jesus (see the bulletin cover image). The Eastern church calls this the “Tabor Light” of the transfiguration, the “Uncreated” light that existed before Day One. Before purple meant mourning and penitence, it was the color of royalty and divinity. It’s not an everyday color because God is not an everyday person. God is something else. So the purple light means that Jesus is fundamentally not us (i.e. Jesus is God).

Jesus drives that point home here, using his theological “I Am” statement three times. “I Am” the light (but not the created light of sun and stars), and then “I Am Who I Am,” using God’s original name for transcendence. That’s why Jesus doesn’t argue with the religious leaders, because his truth trumps theirs. He doesn’t need corroboration because he’s more right than we can be.

So our Lent purple means both things. It means confession of sin and an affirmation of God’s unknowable truth. Really, these come from the same thing. Our confession often focuses on our sin, the premise that we can’t stand before God’s perfection. I lean toward thinking of it as a self-examination when we see the truth of ourselves and the world, when we let God’s light reveal all things (as Paul says in Ephesians 5:13). That truth includes sin, the fact that we’re not perfect, that we live in falsehood. But it also includes part two, the assurance that God’s grace precedes and sustains us, that we’re always already claimed by God’s love. So Paul goes on into the baptismal formula: “Wake up, sleeper, and rise from death.” The gift of new life always wraps around our confession.

What we’re really confessing isn’t our sin, it’s God’s deep truth. It’s the deep purple light that reveals all things, the light of Jesus’ divinity. So “confession” is really about setting ourselves aside because God is greater than our ideas. And “grace” means discovering a self deeper than yourself, knowing yourself as a child of God (with all that means). So the light of grace can even look dark, because it’s the light of truth.

In a couple minutes, we’ll sing Amazing Grace. Verse two of that song begins, “twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” Do you ever think of that? I thought we didn’t like to fear! But John Newton had plenty to fear – not even the fires of hell, necessarily, but just the heat of his own conscience when he recognized the deep brokenness of his lucrative slave trading. Only then did “grace my fears relieve.” The voice that spoke truth also speaks love (as it always has), and love swallows up sin.

Light of Christ reveals our darkness, then swallows it – carries it to the cross, death, and the grave – and finally raises it to resurrection. Christ’s Light shines on in new life. It doesn’t always look like “light.” It can be deep and dark (as can life), but it reveals the truth and gives us new life when we trust in it. That light shines on any time we acknowledge the truth, when we search for a new word from God, when we call on God to remake our lives in grace and love. May we speak truth this week, and may a deep new light shine into our world