When Jesus talks about “love”, as he does in the Gospel today, (John 14:15-21) when he says “If you love me, keep my commandments”, he’s not talking about our modern obsession with “romantic love”, which is, as we all know, a feeling. Yes, a feeling that is not something that will last unless it is taken over by real love. A young man I know well told me that he didn’t really know what love was until the first time he had to get up in the middle of the night to look after his screaming baby. Nothing he could do seemed to calm things, and he resorted to walking up and down the bedroom rocking the baby on his shoulder, feeling tired and angry, and saying grimly to himself “This is what love means, this is what love means!”
So when someone says to me that they no longer “feel” God’s presence, that they have lost their faith, I think that what they are really saying is that they have lost the feeling that God loves them and they love God. But this is not what loving God means, for love and faith are things that we choose to do, just like that young man chose to look after his baby. We may well have times when we feel God very close to us, but that kind of feeling doesn’t last. What we need to do is to turn that feeling into our choice to follow Jesus, whatever things feel like. After all, that was what the first followers of Jesus had to do. At some point instead of running away when things got hard, they had to choose to die for him, and they did.
When we talk of the risen Jesus being alive in our hearts, we need to remember that even when we do not feel his presence, he is still with us. There’s a great passage on this in the 2nd Letter to Timothy (2:12-14) where Timothy is told “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” There it is. God is with us, whether we know it or not, and even if we feel faithless he remains faithful. What we need to do therefore as often as possible is to remind ourselves of this fact. We need to be like that young father grimly rocking his baby, and to say to God, even in the midst of any trouble or doubts we may face, “Lord you are with me, Lord you are with me”
That is surely what is meant at the beginning of the 2nd Reading (1 Peter 3:15-18) by the words “Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts.” It’s hard when we are feeling low and nothing seems to be going right for us, to remember how precious we are to God. This is what Jesus taught us. He said “Do not worry about your life…. can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?.. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:22.25-26 & 32) And that “kingdom” that he will give us is his living presence within us, whatever else may be going on in our lives. And that living presence links us not just to the Jesus we meet in the Gospel stories, but to the full glory of God. So Jesus says “On that day” (by which he means once he has died and has risen) “You will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.”
Notice that last phrase because it reminds us that God is not just in us but we are “in God.” It is easy to think that God is far away in a place called heaven, and that he then sends a little bit of himself to live within us. But Jesus teaches us that God is very different from that. Jesus teaches us that through him we are in God, in the full glory of God. Now of course we will rarely feel that glory, only just occasionally we will get a glimpse of it, and that can be very wonderful. Mostly we have, as St Paul says “to walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7)
We are now approaching the time of year when we remember how God the Holy Spirit came into the friends of Jesus to give them the courage to go out and share God’s message of love and mercy with others, whatever difficulties that might lead to. Let us pray today and always that we too may be given a glimpse of the glory of God’s Holy Spirit that hey experienced and thus be given the same courage that they had, to offer our lives in loving service to others, whatever the cost.