Love stronger than death: | Peter J. Leithart

Love stronger than death: |  Peter J. Leithart

AWe all live in hope. We get up in the morning hoping that today is worth living. We breathe in the hope that the world will share its oxygen supply. We spoke in the hope of an answer. We embark on large-scale undertakings—graduate school, a new career, marriage, parenthood, a walking tour of England—in the hope that our sacrifices and efforts will pay off. We live in expectation of future good, and we believe that it will come.

If we lose hope, we lose everything. Why talk if no one answers? Why breathe, if we no longer trust in the abundant generosity of the world? Why do or act, if there is no help ready to satisfy our hopes? Hope is essential to live Christianly. Hope is essential to live humanly. We, all of us, must live with hope, if our existence is to be called “life” at all.

Above all, we expect love, empathy, friendship, Eros, agape. We long to be admired and adored; we long for devotion, affection and commitment; we want to arouse another’s passion, light another’s eyes, and quicken another’s heartbeat. And we want to return the love we receive: admire and adore, commit ourselves, arouse passion, accept whoever has accepted us. We hunger for mutual intimacy, to know and be known and, despite everything, to be accepted.

Love gives life a new meaning, a new joy, a new energy. Love makes the world new; every leaf, every ray of light, every whisper of the wind shines with love. Hope fulfilled is a tree of life, says Solomon. At its advent, love says: “Here is a new creation!” As Pope Benedict XVI said, “man is redeemed by love.” Nothing but love satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.

However, love is elusive. Our hope for love is often hope against hope, hope against repeated disappointments, a hope we fear will never be fulfilled. The abandoned, neglected, hated child; the duckling who feels that he will never be a swan; the lonely bachelor who waits long years for the advent of love; the jilted wife who knows her husband is ashamed to be seen with her: Everyone asks, with degrees of despondency, “Where is the love?”

Even when we find it, love is fragile. Love cools. Love can be like the seed that sinks into shallow ground and springs up quickly, only to fade in the midday sun. The Bride of the Song of Songs knows the despair of fugitive love. Twice in the Song, hers Beloved of hers, her dodi, it disappears. “In my bed night after night I sought the one my soul loves; I sought him and found him not” (Song 3:1–4). And then again: “I opened up to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone! . . . I searched but could not find; I called him but he did not answer ”. She exhorts the daughters of Jerusalem: “If you find my beloved, tell him I am lovesick” (Song of Songs 5:2–8).

We can’t keep love, not forever. The love of lovers and loved ones—parents, children, friends, husbands, wives—is “destroyed by death,” swallowed up by Sheol. If our souls are to be fully satisfied, if we are to live fully human lives, we must find a love that does not end in death.

This is the hope of the gospel: there is a love stronger than death, a love more jealously possessive than the grave. That Love is the source of the universe, since God himself is immortal, faithful, eternal, triumphant Love. He is the Love that expels fear, the Love that turns mourning into dance.

And he is not some remote and distant “first cause”. Love is here. Love became flesh and mixed with us. The Love that is God became human love, and thus there is a human love, a human Lover, who is stronger than death. Jesus is the lost Lover of Song; he is the true Bridegroom who gives his body as bread, his blood as wine. He departed dead, seemingly lost forever. But Love returned, glorified in the Spirit. Jesus is the flame of divine love, burning through the grave, faithful until death, then faithful again.

Jesus is the only fully human man, because only he lived a life of perfect hope and love. But Jesus is not content to live a life of love. Love was delivered, and when it ascended, it was delivered again as the Spirit, the burning love poured out into our hearts. Through the Spirit, Jesus lives out his love in billions of lives. This is the astonishing conclusion of the Song of Songs: A poem about erotic love, about joining and parting, about the chase and the capture, about passion and despair and the delights of sex becomes, in the end, a celebration of a Love more than human. . Husband and Wife’s love for one another is but a flash of divine love, Yah’s flame (Song 8:6–8).

Only the love of Jesus is stronger than the grave. As they commune with the incarnate Love that is Jesus, their love for each other will ripen into inexpressible and glorious joy. Living in you, Jesus Amante will transform your life as husband and wife into a life of reciprocal dedication. He will shape his marriage in the shape of the Eucharist.

Your only hope for a long and loving marriage is the love of Jesus Christ; Christ, the incarnate Love that became a single Spirit and a single body with his Church; Christ, the incarnate Love that finds a place in the one flesh of your common life; Christ, the Love stronger than death, more jealous than the grave, the flame that nothing can put out.

Peter J. Leithart is president of Theopolis Institute.

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Image by The US National Archives licensed through creative commons. Cropped image.

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