On Pentecost Jesus gives us a love that never dies
Many years ago, I visited an old widower several weeks after the death of his wife. He said something that I have never forgotten: “Father, I’ve been with her for so many years. I no longer know how to be me without her.”
Decades have passed since that conversation. I am still stirred to compassion remembering what he said, and I am still in awe of the profoundly beautiful way that he described his loss.
The Bible is not a book. It is a collection of very disparate writings, assembled first by the ancient Israelites and then by the church. As Christians, we see its unity in Christ. But from Genesis to Revelation, there is a clear teaching that human beings were not made to be alone. Each of us was created to go outside of ourselves toward our own completion in others. Genesis says that we discover our true selves in other human beings. Revelation says that we find it in God. Of course, if you read more closely, they both insist that our lives must lead us to others and, through them, to the one who is totally other, God.
From Genesis to Revelation, there is a clear teaching that human beings were not made to be alone.
But the truth is, on this side of the grave, we never find our complete rest and fulfillment in the other. Even the best of loves can disappoint, can wound and can leave us wanting something more. Even in the best of loves, we must struggle to explain ourselves and truly to listen to the other. In the best of loves, we must reverence rather than overwhelm the beloved.
We share so much, yet the other remains in his or her world and we in ours. Some might boast that their love is so profound that, if it were to increase, one or both of them would have to disappear. Yet that cannot be God’s plan (unity candles notwithstanding). Love is not losing yourself in the other. Love is finding yourself in the other, even if you do so by surrendering so much of yourself.
And then there is death. Like Romeo and Juliet, all lovers die. In this regard, the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel said something I have never stopped quoting: “To love another is to say to him or her, for me, you will not die.” Obviously, all lovers die, but Marcel is saying that those who truly love another touch something in the other, encounter something in the other, larger than the self or the other. The love of spouses or of parents and children or of dear friends can be so real and deep and true that it bespeaks the very love from which it came and to which it is called: the eternal God. Put another way, love can be so life-giving as to mock the might of death.
Love is not losing yourself in the other. Love is finding yourself in the other, even if you do so by surrendering so much of yourself.
One way to access the mystery of Pentecost is to say that in the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ has found a way to enter us, to love us completely and to touch every part of ourselves. Yet he does not overwhelm us. His love does not eradicate us, though we are utterly encompassed by it. Instead, Christ’s love leaves us who we are, indeed more profoundly who we are because in the action of the Spirit we are becoming who we were meant to be. He is within us, yet he is not us, and we are more ourselves because he is within us.
We come from God. When God enters and dwells within us as the Holy Spirit, no part of who we are, save sin, must be denied or darkened. We grow and quicken in the Spirit. The more the Holy Spirit fills us, the more we become ourselves because the Holy Spirit is God, the source from which we come.
We say that the Son is all that the Father is, yet he is the Son and the Father is the Father. In the Trinity, the ageless desire of human love has ever been realized. Two are utterly one, yet they remain distinctly two. How is this possible? The Holy Spirit.
Pentecost concludes and completes the Easter season because Christ did not rise from the dead to roam the cosmos. He rose from the dead to enter each human heart, to dwell there as a love that never dies, never diminishes. Sooner or later death robs all of us; first of our loves and then of our own lives. Yet Christ says to each of us: “For me, you will not die. Because my Holy Spirit has entered you, making both of us the immortal one. Making us forever those who love each other.”