The Meaning of Life
A Sermon on Pentecost
Throughout all the ages of human history, mankind has been ceaselessly occupied with a single question: why? What is the meaning of life, what is the purpose of birth and death, of love and of suffering? Why have we appeared in this world which is so full of both beauty and misery? Men and women of every culture and nation, of every philosophy and religion, have sought for countless centuries to find the answer to this question, and still there are those who seek to find it today despite the modern cacophony of triviality which has all but overwhelmed us. The tongues of mankind were confounded at the Tower of Babel, the hearts of men have been divided by sinful passions and deceitful desires, but nevertheless nothing has been able to eradicate from our souls this one great question. It is the best, the highest, the most noble and praiseworthy instinct in mankind that seeks for the answer to this question. The greatest intellects and the most virtuous representatives of the human race for millennia sought in vain for that which is finally revealed today by simple and unlearned fishermen, in a backward province of an empire which has long since crumbled into dust.
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath… before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
This day is the culmination of all human history. Everything that came to pass from the day that Adam was cast out of Paradise, or rather from the very moment when the Lord God commanded: “Let there be light,” was foreknown and invisibly directed by the unfathomable providence of God in order to lead precisely to this day. Every event of Christ’s earthly life, His birth, His baptism, His teaching, His miracles, His Passion and Crucifixion, His Resurrection and Ascension, every act and every step He took was done in order that, on this day, the Holy Spirit might descend upon the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
And on this day, all the questions of human existence are answered. The meaning of life is revealed for all those who have eyes to see. The answer to the question, the meaning of our life, is the Holy Spirit of God being poured out upon us. It is our calling on the name of the Lord and being saved. There is no other meaning and no other purpose of our life than this. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Yet there are many who will say: “What kind of answer is this? A few men in Jerusalem declared thousands of years ago that Jesus is the Christ, that men ought to repent, they say that they have received the Spirit of God, and you say that this is the answer and the meaning of all human existence? You say that this is not only the explanation but even the essential purpose of all creation, with its infinite multitude of stars and every varied form of life both in the sea and on the land, not to speak of all the mysteries of the universe of which we even yet have not the slightest inkling? How is this in any way an answer to all the insoluble questions and perplexities of the whole human race?”
This day of Pentecost is not a day of easy answers. It is not a day of eloquent speeches or of quick, painless and effortless transformations. It was not the words of St. Peter, but the Holy Spirit Who had descended into his heart, that effected the conversion of thousands of souls on that day. In answer to the great question of our lives, there is no word that we are capable of speaking, no action that we can perform, nothing in the world around us to which we can point — not even to Christ Himself! Remember that ten days ago He ascended out of our sight. And this, according to the teaching of St. Augustine, was in order that we might learn not to look for Him in any other place than within our own hearts.
Christ, Who is the way, the truth, and the life, Who is all beauty, all comfort, all meaning and our only salvation, can no longer be seen visibly anywhere on this earth, and will not be seen again on this earth until the great and terrible day of His coming again, at the end of all things. And He has left us deliberately, on purpose, according to His will and providence and love, precisely so that we might find Him, with His Father and His Most-Holy and Good and Life-Creating Spirit, dwelling within our own hearts. It is there, and in no other place and in no other way, that we will come to understand in very truth and by direct experience the great answer that has been given to all mankind on this day. And it is above all there, in the hearts and in the lives of Christian men and women, that it has henceforth been appointed for mankind to behold the presence of God on this earth.
But like those listening to the Apostle Peter two thousand years ago, inevitably we must now ask: “What shall we do?” For it is certain and indubitable that we can in no way force the Spirit of God. He is not at our beck and call, for us to experience His grace how and when we choose or desire. There is nothing automatic about His coming. It is a promise, and not a guarantee.
So truly then, what shall we do?
First, we must follow the example of the apostles themselves: we must wait. We must wait with patience and with faith and with hope, not knowing when, not knowing how the Holy Spirit will come upon us. We must wait without demanding comfort or joy or consolation at the times we feel that we need or deserve it most. We must wait without doubting that the Promise will be fulfilled, even if we see no sign or indication of His coming in our hearts.
We must wait with faith in the words of the Apostles: that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that we ourselves in truth have crucified and rejected Him, and that we still every day crucify and reject Him. We must believe that we are in truth far worse and more guilty than the Jews, because they did it out of ignorance, while we have received the knowledge of the truth and yet continue to treat this truth with despite and scorn. We have received the very Body and Blood of Christ, and yet we hold this greatest of gifts cheap by our continual preference for the vain and empty things of this life. We busy ourselves, day in and day out, with senseless trivialities — and then wonder why the Holy Spirit does not come upon us and deify us with tongues of fire, as He did the Holy Apostles, during the five hurried minutes we occasionally spend in prayer.
Yet even while seeing in very truth this bitter reality within the depths of our hearts, we must not despond or despair, but rather we must make ourselves obedient to the commandment which the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of St. Peter, gave to us today: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you.” We must repent, continually, over and over until the end of our lives. And each time that we yet again sully our baptismal garment, when we yet again drive away the Holy Spirit by our sinful lives, we must again wash our souls with the renewed baptism which is the Mystery of Confession. Confession is infinitely far from being mere ritual formality or an unpleasant religious obligation: it is life from the dead, it is Life Himself being renewed in us in a great and hidden mystery, the same mystery which was shed abroad upon the disciples and apostles this day in the holy city of Jerusalem. It is the Holy Spirit coming upon us, binding our wounds, healing our hidden sores, renewing us mystically and making us once again the children of the light, the children of the Father. It is a Mystery which is performed invisibly, but which effects a far greater change in us than any that could be perceived by our outward, physical eyes.
And it will open our inner, spiritual eyes to the truth of life, to the truth of God and of ourselves and of all the wide world around us. If anyone seeks wisdom, if anyone seeks knowledge, if anyone seeks meaning or transcendence or enlightenment, if anyone seeks peace and the renewal of all that is good and beautiful, then let him hearken today to the words of St. Peter:
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
May we be found among those called, through the grace and compassion and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be honor and dominion together with His Unoriginate Father and His Most-Holy and Good and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.