He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him (John 14:21).
Whitsunday is a day to celebrate the truth. It is a day to celebrate just what it takes, in the history of the world and in the history of our lives, for God to reach through time and space to bring the light that reveals His glory to rebellious creatures. At our Lord’s trial, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate famously asked, ‘What is truth?’ Pentecost is the final stage of God’s answer to this question. God is truth, and the Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to make this truth known in every dark corner of this world and in every dark corner of our hearts. We need truth revealed to us because we are wounded creatures sorely afflicted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our crippled hearts were there when our ancestors nailed God the Son to a tree, and our battered souls are there in our own lives as we feel constant confusion and oppression under the weight of our pasts and futures. We need clarity in the chaos of our lives; we need to know who we are and why we are here; we need our Creator to define all of these realities because the universe was made by Him — made to be the theater of His grace and the kingdom of His creatures. The greatest lie we can tell ourselves is that God has failed to reveal Himself to us, and we — ALMIGHTY US — must step up to fill the void and define reality. This lie is at the heart of all unbelief because it ignores everything God has done to bridge the gap between Creator and creature — everything the Trinity has done to heal the broken relationship between the God who is love and the creation He loves.
As an example of this beautiful, unfolding revelation of God, our Lord begins today’s Gospel reading with a conditional statement: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). This simple statement is not a threat but a definition of what love actually is. If I were to say, ‘The purpose of life is to love,’ most people would nod their head in approval, but when we actually define love, as Christ does here, does our answer change? Most, when given this definition would shake their heads and recoil in terror, saying: ‘No, love is about me’ or offer the nonsense tautology: ‘Love is Love’ or maybe the only slightly better ‘Love is about how another makes me feel,’ but do we really live in a world where love is just a fleeting attraction or an emotional support blanket, a world where love is merely a chemical reaction or some biological necessity? How can we agree that the purpose of life is to love but have such a low opinion of what love actually is? Next month we will be inundated with strange religious ideas about what love is from celebrities and corporations and even our own government—all of which are simply modern versions of this same toxic inversion. These hollow-hearted priests of our culture always present a love we have to discover and become masters of to bring heaven on earth—a false love designed to prick the consciences of elites and mow down those who dare question supposedly universal truths being constructed, minute by minute, by moral children and the mentally ill: love presented as a tool not a person. Next month, the children of men will have the opportunity to reveal the God who is love, but unsurprisingly, they will sacrifice to a love that is Godless.
Jesus, on the other hand, whose entire life is one of obedience to the will of His Father, is a living demonstration, an enfleshment of what true love looks like, and He tells His apostles to go and do likewise. Are we prepared to accept that true love is not only so much more than a feeling or a tool, but that we can only know it through sacrificial obedience to God’s will? We must if we expect love to transcend our need for companionship or gratification or any of the other sad and small visions of love the counterfeit Jesus’ of our lives try to sell us. The real Jesus makes love concrete and eternal by connecting our horizontal loves—our loves for friends and brothers and spouses and children—to the vertical love each person is built to offer God. Our obedient love of God infuses our earthly loves with an eternal character which makes us free to give ourselves fully to others—to hold nothing back just as Christ held nothing back on the cross. When Christ says today, ‘…because I live, ye shall live also.’ (John 14:19), we are guaranteed that our obedience to the will of God is the lived out expression of a love we have only just begun to understand—a love leading us into eternal life.
The problem, of course, is us. When we are told, ‘Good news, every person in our life represents another opportunity to love God through obedience to His Word,’ we don’t greet that liberating news with the joy it deserves. When I tell a cute 20 year old couple that moving in together before marriage is a betrayal of true love, I am not met with hugs. When I tell a wealthy person that the hoarding of money is a vicious betrayal of love, no one smiles. When I tell any kind of addict (alcohol, drugs, pornography, food, etc.) that their behavior insulates them from the true love they were built to enjoy, they get very angry. Indeed, when someone calls out my sin, all I want to do is yell out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him,’ and I am again reminded of why I so desperately need the cross. But, for the cross to go from something which happened to Jesus to something which happened to me, I need the Holy Spirit: the Comforter, the Advocate, the Paraclete.
So, who is this Holy Spirit whose coming we celebrate today? Well, first off, He isn’t our conscience—He isn’t Jiminy Cricket or the little voice inside our head or whatever crummy analogy we might conjure up to tame the same God who converted the chaos of the universe into the order we now enjoy—the God who moved across the waters of the planet and shaped the very earth we stand upon and built the eyes by which we behold its glory. God the Holy Spirit is not our invisible friend; He is the changeless being behind all life on this planet. He is the means by which Jesus rose from the powers of Hell, and He is our only hope for new life in a dying world. When Jesus ascends into heaven and takes His place at the right hand of His Father, that same Holy Spirit came into the world in a new and dramatic way to continue the work of new creation that began in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. John begins his gospel with the thunderous pronouncement, ‘In the beginning,’ three words which provide the ultimate grounding for all knowledge—the same three words that begin the book of Genesis, and by their invocation, John declares to man and beast that a new earth has been revealed in the risen Savior and continues to be revealed in the hearts of all men made new by the Holy Spirit.
This special role is why our Lord calls the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of truth.’ Christ has perfectly revealed Himself as the ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Christ is the embodiment of truth because truth is more than a lifeless fact or even a holy doctrine—truth is the person by whom all things were created. And so, in our tragic and blessed age, the Holy Spirit serves as the ultimate lifeline back to reality, back to the truth all our questions and fears are groping toward. Anglican writer and apologist C.S. Lewis once said, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’ The Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament, gives us a template for living by which truth can be received and obeyed— a way of living in the eternal realities our fallen world wars against. It is this living relationship with God the Holy Spirit which makes the Christian life so much more than a checklist of dos and don’ts but a portal into the life of the Trinity: an invitation into communion with the divine. Against all other creeds, the Christian life is a simple and transcendent life of prayer and fasting and feasting, joyful suffering and holy witness, a life whose roots dive deep into the earth and whose branches reach up to the heavens. This transcendent rootedness will see us through any storm and provide ample opportunity to bear good fruit for the kingdom of God. It is a life of peace as our neighbors and enemies run from distraction to distraction until they can’t run anymore.
This life, this Holy Spiritual life, we are all now to lead is nothing less than the continuation of the revelation of God to the world. Just as Christ came that all men might see and be in the presence of God, the Holy Spirit has come that God’s people might be united to Him forever. When St. Peter stepped out from his hiding place, when he abandoned the only protection he had against the fury of Satan and the anger of men, when he left behind the shame of his betrayal and the fear that shame always brings, when Peter left all that behind to proclaim the new age of grace and mercy and truth on Pentecost morning, he became the servant of the revelation of God; he became the truth bearing herald of God’s eternal victory. The Holy Spirit took this weak, ignorant man and gave him a voice which bridged the gap between God and man, Creator and creature, Lover and loved. His witness must be our witness. For we are the living witnesses of a fearless love which welcomes the storms of hatred and cruelty as one more blessed opportunity to show this perfect love in action; a love that cannot be silenced by pain and death because, even now, we are forever connected to God, and nothing, not even death can sever that communion.
And so, we welcome the peace that passeth all understanding when we embrace our unbreakable communion with the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost. In that embrace, even in a world filled with rape and war, humiliation and death, even in this most fallen world, we can begin to experience the new state of existence the Holy Spirit has come to begin. Every aspect of a Christian’s life is to be directed toward the strengthening of this eternal bond, not just for us, but so that all men may witness the dawning of the new earth in the life of Christ’s church. May we be the church the world needs, and may we live in the love and truth that can only come from God.