The mood of today’s gospel is very sad; Jesus is about to leave his disciples and friends. This particular Scripture is a part of the long dialogue Jesus had with his disciples as he prepared them for his death, resurrection and ascension.
What we see here is the followers of Jesus beginning to feel what would now be recognised as separation anxiety; the man for whom they gave up everything to follow is about to leave them. They don’t understand what is going to happen to Jesus, what is going to happen to them, and where they were going to go. They had left homes, wives and families and livelihoods to follow Jesus.
To put these emotions of the disciples in context today, lets consider this. We had little warning of this pandemic that has swept across countries and continents, so I’d say we were pretty unprepared; but how would we have felt if we had been warned, say before Christmas that our familiar way of life was to be put on hold; that we would not be going out, the children would not be going to school, many would no longer be working for months and months. I honestly believe we would all have become worried become, anxious and become prey to some very gloomy forebodings.
Jesus knew how despondent they were, so he left the disciples with a promise. In verse 16, Jesus told the disciples that God would leave them a helper, an ‘advocate’. – a word that means comforter, one who walks with you. So the disciples then, and every follower of Jesus since, would know God’s assurance. It’s written in Hebrews 13:5: ‘I will never, never, never, never, never [five times in the Greek text] fail you, nor forsake you.
The Nicene Creed is one of the most ancient of early Christian documents. We say it during worship to confirm what we believe it means to be Christian. In reference to the Holy Spirit it reads:
‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets’.
When we repeat these words we are asserting that we believe they are true. But do we know what they mean? Or is the Holy Spirit really just a mystery? Jesus even seemed to struggle with an explanation that the disciples would understand, when he said: ‘The Spirit blows where
it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’ (John 3:8).
Jesus preached the lessons of the Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament) and interpreted those lessons for a new age. He applied the teachings of the Torah and of the prophets to his own time and place. Part of our faithful response to God should be to do the same thing.
So consider this. The Holy Spirit, that most mysterious part of the Trinity, is still and forever with us.
That still small voice that comes into our hearts when we are most overwhelmed or confused; that is the Holy Spirit.
When we are the most befuddled and lost for answers, comfort comes to you – that is the Holy Spirit.
When we are despondent, our hearts are broken and we don’t think we can go on, it’s the Holy Spirit that fills our hearts with love and encouragement that lets us know we can.
When we see someone hurting or upset, needing comfort and we are unsure how to help, suddenly the right words begin to come and we find we can offer solace – that is the Holy Spirit.
When we are overcome with the beauty of springtime or the twinkling of a starry sky or the words of a song move us deeply, that is the Holy Spirit reassuring us, ‘lo, I am always with you, even to the ends of the earth’.
The Holy Spirit, always with us….. even when we don’t acknowledge its presence.
The Holy Spirit walks with us, leading, guiding and supporting us on our journey. Our advocate hears us when we cry out and comes to prop us up; we find someone has been praying for us, or we receive encouraging words, or someone does us an act of true kindness – these are the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our own life and in the lives of others.
Jesus asked no small thing of the disciples when he said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. How can this advocate or counselor, the Holy Spirit, help guide us today in our quest to be disciples?
No matter how sad and lonely we may feel, we are not alone. We are a member of the family of Christ, protected eternally by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus promises that we will be not be onlookers to a love we can never possess; instead, he says ‘come in, and join. My family is gathered and your place is reserved.’
No matter what happens in the future, what goes wrong as we live through these uncertain times, no matter how remote God may seem from us at times, we are assured that we have an advocate, a helper in the Holy Spirit that will always be with us. As Paul said to the people in Athens: ‘in Him we live and move, and have our being…… for we too are his offspring.’ God uses the Holy Spirit to speak through us, to challenge us to think in new ways, and to move the church in new directions. Through tradition, reason, and experience, and through our on-going encounters with the Holy Spirit we can learn to be faithful disciples of God in new and exciting ways. In Acts, the promised advocate sets the world on fire and the Church is born.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Home By Another Way, says:
‘The question for me is whether we still believe in a God who acts like that. Do we still believe in a God who blows through closed doors and sets our heads on fire? Do we still believe in a God with power to transform us, both individuals and as a people, or have we come to an unspoken agreement that our God is pretty old and tired by now, someone to whom we may address our prayer requests but not to change our lives?
If we love Jesus, we have to constantly be taking stock of our lives and our church, and asking how we are faithful to Jesus commandments. With the Holy Spirit guiding us on our spiritual journey, it will be the most awe-inspiring, astonishing, breathtaking, joyous, magnificent, glorious
Enjoy the ride, and God bless you.