By Paul Koch –
Our lives are marked by our habits. Our habits reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of our routines. They are the things we do to make it through the day, the week or even the year. Some of our habits are rigid and very difficult to change. Other habits are a matter of convenience, and change may occur with some motivation. For me, my most rigid habits deal with sermon preparation. Preaching is the most crucial part of my job so I have developed strict habits regarding my craft. I’m almost terrified to change these habits because I know what has worked for me and there is just too much at stake to change course. However, I also have habits with regard to what I do on my day off, or when I get my hair cut, or how I eat sushi; but these habits are open to change with fairly easy persuasion.
Our habits can be helpful. They give rhythm and predictability to our lives. Without them we would be lost. However, not all habits are good. Some habits are fueled by unhealthy addictions, and some by sinful passions. There are also those unhealthy habits that we find in the body of Christ: habits that have been generated by years and years of experience. These habits might make the gifts of God predictable and bland. These habits may rob us of the joys of our faith and subdue our songs of praise.
Every year we have this big buildup to the festival of Easter. We began weeks earlier with the imposition of ashes on a Wednesday evening. We came to Holy Week entering the sanctuary with palm branches and sang, “All glory laud and honor to you redeemer King.” Things moved quickly from the institution of the Lord’s Supper, to the arrest in the garden, to his trial before Pilate. We gathered, then, with tears in our eyes as we meditated on the immense suffering and death of our Lord. Then last Sunday we rejoiced! We rejoiced with all our heart and strength. We rejoiced for our Lord had risen from the dead. Now today, well today we just move along almost as if it didn’t happen. We just continue with the rhythm and the habits of our life as if nothing is different.
But, things are not the same after Easter. A new day has dawned and a new life is given to you. To just move on, to fall back into the old habits, would be to treat our Easter celebration as if it was just a nice reenactment or just a passionate retelling of history. When we lived in Georgia, I had the opportunity to meet a few Civil War reenactors. They would wear the right uniforms and gather in historic battle fields to act out these incredible scenes in our country’s history. But when it was all over they would get in their SUV’s, turn on the air-conditioning, and head back home to watch the race on TV. Easter isn’t just a celebration of history; it is a celebration of something that changed the world and continues to do so. St. John speaks about it as a light that has come. This light shines brightly and is a light that we now walk in. Light changes things. In pushing back the darkness, it reveals all that is ugly and deceitful. But light also shows the way; it guides and gives hope.
“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” As those who have not seen and yet believe, you are those who are walking in the light. To walk in the light is not to go back to business as usual; it is to live and bold and new life in Christ. In fact, according to John, to be in fellowship with God is to walk in the light. It is impossible for us to walk in darkness. This means it is impossible now for us to hide our sins. The light of God shines on them all. All your sins are visible: the ones that you are truly ashamed of, the ones that you hope the people sitting around you today will never find out about. Those sins are lying out as clear as day before God. Also shining are the sins that everyone does know about: the ones that you may even brag about with your friends or coworkers. All of your sins are revealed in the light of God.
Now, the things that happen in the light cannot be easily dismissed. Unlike the darkness, where we can hide away all those things we don’t want anyone to know about, the light allows no such game. But it doesn’t stop us from trying. No, we gather together in this place where the light of God shines for us and we proceed to hide our sins from it. The truth is, we don’t have many places left where we can hide our sin. We can’t hide it in ignorance, saying that we didn’t know it was wrong. The Law of God is not unclear or shaky. It isn’t full of gray areas left to our own interpretation. No, it is clear. So, perhaps we might try and hide our sin in the common sin of humanity. This is the great “everyone is doing it” argument. But John reminds us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” This fellowship is one marked by light, so we can’t simply hide our sin in the community. Lastly, we try and hide our sin within ourselves.
Now trying to hide our sins within ourselves is a dangerous move that we make all too often. We think we’re safe when we keep it in. We think that it’s just better that way. But in fact, what we are doing is heaping up lie after lie. We lie to ourselves that those sins do not need the light. We begin to believe that they are the sins we can control or they are the ones that we have dominion over. We believe there is no need to bring them out into the light of day. But by hiding our sins we lie about actually walking in the light. We prefer to hold on to a little darkness to use for our own purposes. This little bit of darkness in this little secret place within ourselves, where we think we have it all under control, becomes the one thing for which we don’t need Easter. It becomes the one thing for which we don’t need a crucified and risen Lord. This piece we say we can handle. There is no need to bring it into the light.
This is the greatest lie of all. Here, we make our Lord out to be a liar. Was not His blood spilled to cleanse us from all sin? Did He not endure the pains of the cross, scorning its shame, so that you might be forgiven? Did He not rise triumphantly from the grave so that no part of your life would be left in the darkness? Your sins, even the ones you try and hide in the deep recesses of your own heart, have already been condemned and judged in the body of Jesus Christ. When He took up your sins, He took them all. To try and hide some away from His light is to make Him a liar.
There is nowhere to hide from the light of God. It exposes even our most clever lie. We cannot run. We cannot hide. There is only one thing left to do; we must confess.
John says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To confess is to let the light take them. It is what happens when we say here they are! Here are all of our sins, all of our brokenness and regrets, and all of our doubts and worries. In the bright light Christ’s voice speaks not of condemnation or despair, but of hope. For in the light of day we hear His sweet words, “I forgive you, all of your sins. I forgive you this very day. They are as far from you as the East is from the West. You are free from their guilt and condemnation.”
With such words, He takes you by the hand and lifts you up so that you may walk in His glorious light. This is a new day: a day lived in the light of Christ. Awaken from your old habits and rejoice. For Jesus has met the demands of God’s Law for you. He has been punished for your sins. Now He lives to bring you to Himself. This is His love. This is His forgiveness. This is what it is to walk in the light.