About 20 years ago, the novelist William Styron took a courageous step, and described his battle with depression in a book called “Darkness Visible.” Depression is one of those afflictions that millions of us suffer with, but few want to talk about. The World Health Organization estimates over 120 million people live with it every day around the world. But Styron, as a famous and successful figure, came forward and wrote about how it had touched his life. He described the despair he experienced, the sense of helplessness – and how the medical treatment he received – including seven weeks in a hospital — helped to bring him back, at last, to the light.
At one point, he quoted from Dante’s “Inferno.”
In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood,
For I had lost the right path.
In so many ways, that describes the journey of all of us – struggling to find our way in a world of confusion and chaos, of distractions and disturbances. A world of fear, and temptation, and sin. A world that so often offers us only darkness.
But this Sunday, the darkness lifts.
Just past the halfway point in Lent, we put aside purple on put on rose — and rejoice. It’s “Laetare Sunday.” Our journey toward Easter is nearing its end. We can see the light, in every sense.
No less than five times in this gospel passage we just heard, St. John mentions light. He is speaking of the light of Christ, the light of life, the light of our Easter hope. And it couldn’t be more timely. Just look around you.
We just started Daylight Savings Time, with an extra hour of light at the end of our day. Tuesday will mark the first day of spring – believe it or not – and we hurtle inevitably toward warmth, and growth — and light. Some brave daffodils have started to sprout outside my building on Yellowstone Boulevard. Sprigs of grass are returning. A few sparrows and pigeons have begun trying to build a nest outside our window. The world is awakening.
And: just as the earth right now turns closer to the sun, we need to turn back to the source of all light, as well. The gospel reminds us: the source of that light is boundless, unfathomable love.
“For God so loved the world,” John writes in his gospel, “that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
Lent is a time for us to ask those questions – and more. Where have we failed? How have we fallen short? How have we put distance between ourselves and God?
How have we blocked the light?
In some way, all of us have. It seems like it was ages ago, but we can’t forget: we are people who have been marked.
Last month, in the middle of an ordinary week, over three thousand people came to this church to have their foreheads stained with ash. We may have washed the ashes away, but the memory of that stain is still there – a very human stain, a mark of our humanity, and our sin. We wore our mistakes for the world to see.
The ash reminds us of our past.
But the light we hear about today is the promise of our future.
That is the meaning of this Sunday. We rejoice because the miracle of the resurrection is closer. And we rejoice because God’s love – a love that came into the world and suffered death for the world – offers us something beyond measure.
It holds out mercy. Forgiveness. Redemption.
It holds out light.
It reassures us: despite what we may think, no matter what we have done, we don’t have to stay in the dark.
This is a beautiful time to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. In the Archdiocese of Washington, they have an advertising campaign for confession that says, “The light is on for you.” The light isn’t just the green light saying, “Come in.” It is love. The love that is so great, it gave the world His son, on a cross, for us. The light is the love that is ready to forgive.
When William Stryon finally wrote about his journey out of deep wood of depression, back to the light of living, the last words of the book continued that quote from Dante that I mentioned at the beginning – words that proclaim a beautiful and enduring truth.
“And so we came forth,” Dante wrote, “and once again beheld the stars.”
This Sunday, we rejoice because we are reminded of the light that came into the world, and is always near.
We rejoice because of this: even when it seems we are in the darkness of night, there are stars.