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The Holy Spirit: The Presence of Divine Love

The Holy Spirit: The Presence of Divine Love

To mark the feast of Pentecost this week, Fr Jarred offers a sermon on the Holy Spirit.


The Holy Spirit, though at the centre of our faith, is perhaps the least talked about aspect of our belief and worship. Every prayer, every blessing, every mass, the Holy Spirit is invoked or mentioned, just before we move on to talk about Jesus. This is perhaps not all bad. Jesus himself said that he was going to send the Spirit who would 'bear witness to me ... He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you' (John 15.26; 16.14). 

It is almost as if trying to look directly at the Spirit blurs our vision, but when we look at the work of Christ, the Spirit begins to come into focus. 

Our lack of consideration of the Spirit, however, has I think caused us to miss this point. When we think about the Spirit, if we think about the Spirit, we tend to want to zero in on the blurriness, rather than focussing through the lens which makes things more clear. 

So the Spirit becomes some ethereal, ghost-like force behind everything. The groundless wind that blows where it wills (the fact that the Greek word for the Spirit literally means 'wind', and we regularly refer to the Spirit as the 'Holy Ghost', probably doesn't help!). 

But everywhere in Scripture we see that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ: to be 'in Christ' is to be 'in the Spirit', the Spirit is the 'Spirit of Christ' (Rom 8.9), the Spirit takes what is Christ's and declares it to us (John 16.14), the Spirit teaches all that Jesus taught (John 14.26), and through the Spirit Christ indwell us (1 John 4.13). 

Not the Spirit of an indifferent or ethereal force: The Spirit of God the Father, the Spirit of God the Son; a Gift, given to us of the very life of God: 'The love of God has been poured into our hearts', Paul writes, 'by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us' (Rom 5.5).

 Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Dove of the Holy Spirit . St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Dove of the Holy Spirit. St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

There is a particularity of this Spirit. This is not some general divine power—this is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The Spirit testifies to Christ, because the Spirit continually re-presents the self-giving love of Christ's crucifixion to us. But the Spirit does not just communicate, the Spirit is not Jesus' spokesman. In the Spirit, the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ remains present in our world. 

The self-giving love of the Trinity in creation, the self-giving love of Jesus on the cross, is continually given to us as gift, and through us to others, by the Holy Spirit present among and within us in our real, fleshy, brutal, broken human existence. Bringing darkness to light, overturning earthly oppressive powers, evil, sin, wickedness, by the invincible divine love that passes through it all and brings it to new, resurrection, glorified life. 

The Holy Spirit, then, is the abiding presence of perfect divine love, of Jesus Christ, in our world. That specific, humane, earthy, working of God in and among us, not some other-worldly force. The Holy Spirit is completely at home in our world, in all of it, completely invading all of it. Just as we see through the cross of Christ: the beautiful and broken aspects of us and our world touched with divine love. And just as we see in Christ's resurrection, all of it, all of it—wounds and all—brought into glory and resurrection, into new life. 

So the Spirit continues this work in all of us, restoring us to the Father through the continued redemptive work of the Son in our world. 

The Holy Spirit is the self-giving love of God made present in the real, concrete, life and death of Jesus [1]

This means all the effects of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus continue in our world through the work of the Spirit: the subversion of earthly powers, the inclusion of the marginalised and rejected, the preferential treatment of the poor, the forgiveness of sins—our healing, our acceptance. And this work continues through us. For as the Spirit bears witness to Christ, crucified and risen, so are we, Jesus says, to become witnesses of the same through the Spirit who indwells us. 

The Spirit is the perpetual gift of God's gratuitous, overflowing love, and the Spirit is this gift to be continually given by us. We then work to subvert earthly oppressive powers, we offer Christ's forgiveness, we bring healing and renewal to broken places in our world, we become the home for the marginalised and outcast. As the Spirit is poured out into us, so are we poured out for the world.

There is another important aspect to this. Jesus said that he could not send the Spirit until he was glorified (John 7.39). The risen Christ was beheld by his disciples and those near to him, but Christ ascends to the Father in glory so that he can send the Spirit that we might all behold the beauty of our risen Saviour.

The life of Jesus continues to be lived among us because the Spirit does not testify to God the Son outsideof this world—pointing away from us and our situation—, but rather, as Rowan Williams so eloquently points out, works to form Son-shaped lives inthe world. The life of the Spirit is the continued sharing of the love of Father and Son with humanity—that love Christ lived out among us. When Jesus ascends to the Father, risen and exalted, he sends the Spirit to bring about in us the same union Jesus shares with the Father. The work of the Spirit, in other words, is to through the Son create 'sons', to create 'daughters', of God.

So when Paul says the Spirit's indwelling us makes us not slaves but children of God, and that we, with Jesus, cry out 'Abba, Father', he is saying that the sign of the Spirit in the world is not extraordinary gifts or remarkable feats of power; the sign of the Spirit is Christlikeness in us. The sign of the Spirit is being God's child in the world (R Williams, On Christian Theology, 119-24). 

The Holy Spirit is the power of God making us God's children, drawing us into the love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we might be related to the Father as Jesus' humanity is, through union with God the Son—through sonship.

In the Spirit we are growing up into our childhood. The life of the risen and glorified Christ is shared with us, so that we can grow up into that life. We are sitting somewhere between our given, created life and our future re-created life in resurrection, and the Spirit—the breath of God that created all things—breathes us into the new creation.


  1. Alison, J. (1993). Knowing Jesus. London: SPCK (p. 27).

 

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