“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.” — John 14:15-17
This weekend is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The readings can be found here. The themes foreshadow the upcoming Pentecost with a focus on the nature of the Holy Spirit.
This week’s reflection comes from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edwardsville, Illinois (USA). The reflection has a different first reading than the Catholic liturgy but I chose it for its Gospel reflection. You can find the full reflection here but set forth below is an extended summary:
In the Upper Room the night before his death, with the disciples struggling with confusion and fear, Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit or Advocate was spoken of in legal terms, meaning, ‘counselor‘, ‘advisor’, ‘helper’. The Spirit was something the Hebrews always sensed as being close by, but Jesus promised he would send the Spirit to come and dwell within them.
Earlier Jesus had said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Referring to those words he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. Interestingly enough in the literal translation Jesus says, “If you should ever love me…..” While God’s love is not conditional John concentrates on the mutuality of love because mutuality is what empowers love and gives us life.
Part of our problem is that most of the time we think of God as not here, but ‘out there’. “Our Father, who is in heaven”, to echo our familiar words. But the Bible describes God’s relationship to the universe as right here; indeed even more than right here. It describes God’s encompassing Spirit as a non-material dimension of reality that surrounds us and everything around us.
As Paul says in Acts, God is the “..one in whom we live and move and have our being”. God is not somewhere else, but all around us. We live and move ‘in God’, because there is no place we can be outside of God. Some of the meaning of the biblical words for ‘spirit’ suggest this. In both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma), the words which we translate as Spirit, also mean wind and breath. God is like the wind, like breath. Ancient peoples did not think of wind as a material reality, as molecules in motion. Rather, they experienced wind as a powerful, invisible force. Such imagery should speak to us as well, especially this particular spring and this week as we have seen, and so many have experienced, the amazing massive power of wind.
In a similar way breath is seen as the invisible life force within us. God is like the wind that moves outside of us and the breath that moves inside of us. We are in God as God is also within us. As the fish are in the sea, so we too live and move and have our being in God.
But additionally we address God as a person because the history of Israel, as well as the life death and resurrection of Jesus, reveals to us that God is not an ‘it’ but a “YOU’; the One not only in whom we live and move and have our being, but the One who seeks us and loves us.
* * *
The great theologian Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love; and then for the second time in the history of the world we will have discovered fire.”
We live in mystery – the mystery of God’s creative love. We were loved into being. At times we try to step out of this mystery, but God is always attempting to draw us back into it. The song we are called to sing is a melody of love offered to the cosmos. The world which watches us will be persuaded we have something powerful to say, not when our particular agenda overcomes another, but when the gospel is incarnated, when our hearts are set on fire with God’s loving purposes and presence. When that happens not only will we be changed, the world around us will be changed. And it will be then that we finally know the Lord, the God of our creation, the One in whom we live and move and have our being.