4th Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2018
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
The Apostle Paul once looked out into this world – blackened by sin – and wrote: “For now we see in a mirror, darkly.” The haze of sin clouds this world, the thick blackness of evil shrouds everything we see. Paul understood that.
To a certain extent, so did an Italian psychologist named Giovanni Caputo. In a psychological study straight out of a horror film, Giovanni decided to find the place where scientific study and wide-awake nightmare collide. He may have used the Apostle Paul’s words as a guide, because the place Giovanni discovered for his experiment, the great source of his scientific illusion, just so happened to be “in a mirror…darkly.”
You see, Giovanni, as a psychologist, was researching how our mind affects what we see. So he set up a cavernous room that was lit only by a dim light. Then, one at a time, he would call in an individual to sit down in front of the dim light and look into a mirror. And there the person would sit, staring into a mirror with a faint light behind him – studying the reflection. It seemed harmless enough. But then something happened that even Giovanni wasn’t ready for.
After about a minute, the person sitting in that faintly-lit room, staring into the mirror soon began to see a change. His own reflection morphed. For many, the scene became appalling. Some claimed they saw the reflection of own face become deformed. Others watched the reflection of their face change into the likeness of their parent’s face. Some watched the mirror change the image completely – and they saw an image of someone they had never seen before. Some saw the face of an animal come into view.
And then there were some poor souls who watched in that dimly lit room as the faint reflection of their face changed into a reflection of a monstrous being. Throughout the tests, Giovanni assured the participants that it was harmless study. But the people weren’t so sure. When the participants watched the reflection in the mirror change, some became frightened. Others felt as though another presence was there with them in the room. Some even thought that the specter in the mirror was actually someone else (or something else) looking right back at them. It was all some of the participants could do to keep themselves from running out of the room screaming.
Giovanni’s harmless psychological study had become a wide-awake nightmare for the participants. They had looked into a mirror darkly, and they were horrified by what they saw.
This morning, I can’t say for certain what these men and women saw in the mirror. Was it their mind twisting what they saw? Or was it something darker at work?
What I can tell you this morning, is that you are looking in a mirror darkly every day. And what you see might look frighteningly similar to what Giovanni’s poor participants witnessed. Paul himself understood that as he looked at our sin-darkened world. All of us, every day, look out into this world and see it to be like looking “in a mirror darkly.”
Jesus saw the very same thing. He had come as the Light of the world, and nobody recognized him. That is why our Gospel reading says, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” While darkness can be a frightful feeling, we sometimes welcome it. After all, thick darkness can cloak us in invisibility. Within that blackness our sinful nature runs wild. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
So there we sit, struggling with sin in the dimly lit room of this world. Our sinful nature eggs us on – encouraging us, pulling us further into the darkness. “No one will see!” it cries out. “No one will know!” And further in we go – until darkness is all around and no light can be found.
That is when the Lord holds the mirror of his law up to us. He shows us for who we are, sin and all. And when we look at our sinful selves, it is like looking into Giovanni’s dimly-lit mirror. We see someone we don’t even recognize – twisted, monstrous, sinful.
“Men loved darkness instead of light.” That seemed especially true during the Passion history of our Lord. While Jesus prayed during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, arrived with a mob. Soldiers and Jewish leaders were about to apprehend Jesus under the cover of night. No one would see what they were doing. Darkness would make the perfect cover.
Jesus understood the entire situation – and he called them out on their actions: “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” Imagine how difficult it was for the Lord of light to let darkness reign! The darkness of his own people, the darkness of the Romans all led to the darkness of the cross.
The Gospel writers even tell us that while Jesus suffered on the cross a thick darkness covered the sky and the sun stopped shining. And at the end of it all, Jesus, the Light of the world, allowed himself to stop shining.
Three days later the Light of the world shone ever brightly. Jesus rose again. And the ancient words of Isaiah were instantly fulfilled: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Now with that light of Christ, with the light of his word, we can begin to see things clearly. “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
There is an old Jewish custom that when a member of a family dies, every mirror in the house is covered for several days. The reasons are superstitious. They believe the soul of the deceased could get trapped in an uncovered mirror.
We know the truth. The dimly-lit mirrors of this world might look frightening. Darkness will continue to cover this world. But in the thick blackness of this world, look to your light. Look to Christ. “For now we see in a mirror, darkly.” But when Christ returns, we shall see him face to face in the perfect light of heaven. In the meantime, let us always confess: “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Amen.