The Spirit Empowers Us to Love
Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr Nicholas Crowe preaches on the new commandment.
We are approaching the end of the Easter season and the great feast of Pentecost, and already the sound of the mighty wind that will descend on the apostles like fire on that day is rumbling in the background of this Sunday’s readings. The great gift of the Holy Spirit when he comes is of course charity. When the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling within us at our Baptism, he forges in us a bond of love which unites us to Jesus and through Jesus the rest of his Body the Church. It is to this gift of love that our readings this Sunday draw our attention.
In our first reading a group of Gentiles had an intense experience of being loved by God when the Holy Spirit came upon them in power, and such was their joy that they burst into praise. St. Peter and the Jewish Christians who were with him understood then that the love of God is universal, extending beyond their own nation to embrace the whole world: all of us are loved by God. We heard St. Peter declare:
‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.’
This love of God that become ours, part of us, through the Gift of the Spirit is particular and personal. God does not love human beings in a general sort of way, as a group or an undifferentiated mass. Instead, he loves you and me particularly and individually. As my old university chaplain used to say, God does not just love you: he likes you! We are personally treasured by God and the sign of God’s particular love for us is that we love God in return. We heard in our second reading:
My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
‘Loves come from God’ because God is love. When the Spirit of God begins to blow in our hearts and minds he fills our sails and moves us towards love of God and love of neighbour. We love God because God loves us, and his love is wind in our sails that prompts us both to return his love and to love our neighbour as ourselves. But what does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love our neighbour? To answer that question we need to look to Jesus.
Jesus makes God’s love visible and tangible because he is God. Jesus is a divine person who has assumed a human nature like ours so that through this sacred humanity God himself can love us in a way that we can see and hear and feel and understand. Jesus shows us in his own flesh what a human life looks like when it is completely docile to the impetus of the Holy Spirit. Our second reading continues:
God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
So first we have God’s love for us. Second, that divine love which we glimpse fleetingly and obscurely in our human experience of love is made visible and tangible for us in the person of Jesus. Jesus fully reveals the extent of God’s love for us in his sacrifice on the cross which is offered for each one of us personally and individually. But there is a third step, and Jesus underlined this third step in our Gospel reading: we are to imitate the love of Jesus, which is the love of God, by loving one another with the same self-sacrificial love with which he loved us. Jesus says to his disciples, and that means to you and me:
This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you… What I command you is to love one another.
First, God is love. Second, his love is revealed to us, manifested to us, in the person of Jesus and especially his self-sacrifice for our sake on the cross. Third, we are called to reflect and share this divine love by loving one another with the same self-sacrificing love with which Jesus loves us. How is this possible? By our own strength, of course, it is impossible. But nothing is impossible for God. When the Holy Spirit comes he will bind us to Jesus, and empower us to live the same kind of self-sacrificing life that Jesus lived: empower us to love God and neighbour. As St. Paul tells teaches us in Romans 8:14: ‘All those who are driven by the Spirit are children of God’. The Spirit is the wind in our sails: God himself empowers us to love Him and to love our neighbour. For our part, we must simply accept the gift and say yes to the work of God in our lives, we must simply say thank you for the power of his recreating love in our lives.