Easter 6, John 15:
“Where There is No Love, Put Love and You Will Find Love”
Herbert O’Driscoll described John’s Gospel as a “remembering” of what the life of the Christ was to John and his community. His attempt to describe the meaning of The Christ as self-emptying love is, I think hugely successful. This spiritual master was on the downward path, mixing with the forgotten and the lost. Christ descends before he ascends. St Francis de Sales poignantly wrote about this spiritual path of descent in the title of this reflection, ”Where there is no love, put love and you will find love”. There is no place that the Christ and by extension the Mercy and love of God will not reach, where God’s yearning for union with us is absent.
Perhaps one of the most telling parts of the creed that some of us say each Sunday is: “He descended into hell.” Even in hell, one finds the presence and mercy of God. And as one survivor of one of Hitler’s Death camps reported, “I’ve already been to hell.” It is the Hebrew God of Moses who sees the affliction of the people Israel. Israel means “to wrestle with God”, and God seeing these wrestlers in the hell of slavery, calls Moses to lead them to their liberation. For Christians, the Christ is a personification of that loving descent of God into the hell of our lives, those moments when there is only the sense of extreme separation. Even there God comes.
Evelyn Underhill transcribes the story of a holy man who when asked if he could be present to Christ in hell, remarked, “I’d rather be with Christ in hell than in heaven without Him.”
The point that John makes is that there is a constant outpouring of love: from the Divine, love overflows into the Christ and through the Christ into the Spirit and from the Spirit into us. And as the divine love and mercy flows back to the divine the endless exchange of love continues to overflow into the creation.
John faces the breakdown of the overflow of the divine love sixty or seventy years after the death of Jesus. His community is broken, the people have returned to the easier gods of the empire, there is already persecution of the new Christians as well as the Jews. It was not only the Temple that was destroyed within the memory of John, but the systematic extermination of the Jews in Jerusalem and parts of North Africa. By extension the new Christian communities still identified with the Jews also fell victim to the Roman extermination campaign.
If John chose to distance himself from the Jews it was perhaps his fear in the face of this systematic persecution. Ever since it seems only the greatest saints have stood with the Jews when they faced subsequent persecutions. History testifies that many Christians ended up as their executioners or remained silent at their oppression.
If we are to love one another, how are we to do it in a way that keeps us open to the flow of God’s love as it moves and flows through people and time and nature? It is through descent, modeled in the self-emptying love of the Christ for the poor, the forgotten and for the suffering. It is there, in the hells of Auschwitz, in the hell of being targeted in a racist society, in the suffering from earthquake, famine, oppression, that love, when it is put, love can be found.
In spite of his fear, John described the process as a continual motion of flow and exchange where love’s power and energy is sustained and grows. It is that energy that Albert Einstein’s daughter recently shared in a letter from her father. In it he said that the real spiritual energy of the universe is not E= MC 2. Her father’s final letter to humanity is E=LOVE. And so it flows, spilling over into the universe, a force that builds, that renews, and re-envisions what it means to be human. John recognized the power of the energy of love a while ago now, I only wish we hadn’t used it as an instrument of oppression.