That was a scene from the last movie of the Matrix trilogy, Matrix Revolutions. Neo, a human being played by Keanu Reeves, meets a family. This “family” is made up of all computer programs in the virtual reality called the matrix. The father, Rama-Kandra, tells Neo that he loves his his daughter, Sati, and his wife. Neo, a human, does not understand how a program could experience such an emotion like love. In case you missed it, the dialogue goes like this:
Neo: I just have never…
Rama-Kandra: …heard a program speak of love?
Neo: It’s a… human emotion.
Rama-Kandra: No, it is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies. I see that you are in love. Can you tell me what you would give to hold on to that connection?
Rama-Kandra: Then perhaps the reason you’re here is not so different from the reason I’m here.
Neo is trapped in a train station between two worlds. Rama-Kandra, his wife, and their daughter, Sati, have made a deal to get out of this “in between” world. Sati, you see, is a program without a purpose and will be deleted from the machine mainframe unless her parents can hide her. That is their goal of taking the train.
But Neo is puzzled, and rightly so.
Why would Rama-Kandra and his wife, two computer programs, care about just another computer program called Sati?
The answer is love, but Neo [like all of us] thinks love is a human emotion.
But as Rama-Kandra explains it, love is just a word. What matters is the meaning you attach to the word. Programs like him can experience a profound connection to each other, one that they use the word ‘love’ to describe.
Love is just a word.
What matters is the connection it implies.
In John’s Gospel, the last one written about Jesus, there is an extreme focus on love and connection not found elsewhere in the New Testament.
Why is that?
John’s community was scared, anxious, and uncertain.
So the words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth are words of comfort.
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
What we see here as “advocate” and “spirit: is the Greek word parakletos, which literally means “one called alongside.” It is a word that is closely related to a familiar writing from the Hebrew Scriptures [the OT]—Psalm 23. Parakletos is much like the Hebrew word hacham [your rod and your staff, they comfort–hacham—me].
So we ought to see the various levels and meanings of this word and recognize that it is more than a word…
Because this spirit-advocate-comforter-truth will, as the Greek says, remain with them. The word remain is menei in Greek, the same word used to describe Jesus being in the Father, and the Father in him, and the Father in those who love.
When Jesus says that the disciples “know” the spirit, this [in John’s Gospel] means that they are in relationship. Abiding, being one, and knowing are all the same thing in John.
This is about connection.
And this connection is called love.
And love is the opposite of fear.
And love is not limited to a place or to certain times.
Those who are connected to God’s love are connected to each other.
And they live out that connection in the world.
This gives them meaning.
It’s tempting to think that in our respective matrix [our world, our day-to-day routine], that love is a distant, hypothetical, fairy tale, an all-too-unrealistic idea. Love is reserved for romantic poems and sappy songs, wedding days, and sacred, religious books.
But we ought to stop trying to define love—at least the word—and we ought to find meaning in our connections to each other.
I’ve been thinking about this as the United Church of Christ recently sued the state of North Carolina and as the state where I live—Pennsylvania—just saw a judge, John E. Jones, III, declare unconstitutional PA’s Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA], which once prohibited same-sex marriage. This new legal order directs the state of Pennsylvania to allow same-sex couples to marry and to recognize valid out-of –state marriages.
I admit that it still shocks me that we even had to come this far.
Why so many people [and many of them in the church] feel that they have the authority to define what love is and looks like, and therefore, who can express that love in a marriage—is beyond me. After all, love and marriage are just two words we say to describe a strong, meaningful connection.
When the congregation I serve decided two years ago to become an Open and Affirming church, this move was both applauded and highly criticized. Many left the church leading up to the decision and shortly thereafter. Even the mere presence of a rainbow sign continues to anger and confuse people.
I am not surprised, because the debates and arguments are usually off-base. I still get lots of emails [and even phone calls] from people who do not know me or anyone in the congregation [or gay or lesbian people], but they just cannot understand how we can affirm same-sex unions or the LGBT community. They want proof of Jesus endorsing same-sex unions; they quote Bible passages left and right; they grasp at all kinds of theological straws to try to prove that somehow people like me are wrong about same-sex love being the same love.
And people wonder why most people my age or younger have little to no interest in Christianity or church?
We have become obsessed with defining words like love and marriage and church and have therefore lost our connection to Jesus and our connection to each other.
After all, that is what matters. Church has nothing to do with buildings or even religion.
Church is about people finding meaningful connections—connections to their Creator, and connections with people.
And anyway, if there is anyone who takes this Jesus of Nazareth seriously, all commandments wither away, cover their eyes, shrink, and fade in the face of the one commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you.
So, with that connection in mind, let’s stop trying to define love. It’s pointless.
Instead, let us be grateful for the love we have from our Creator, the love we see in the teachings and life of Jesus, and for the continued connection we have to that love because of spirit.
And then, let us close our mouths for a moment and open our arms and hearts; let us extend our hands; let us reach across gaps and barriers; let us embrace differences and pluralism; let us seek out connections with others.
Let us stop holding on to buildings, religious traditions, dogmas, and definitions.
After all, life in this matrix is not easy and we could all use more connection.
So may our energies, time, and resources be used to build meaningful connections.
And in those connections, we will walk the path of love.