You are gathered around the table like you’ve done so many times before ... gathered for a meal with this unlikely band of brothers, so diverse yet so drawn together by this singular enigma of a man, this Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, whom you have all come to trust and to whom you have committed your whole lives for these past 3 years ... Jesus whom you have grown to depend on and love deeply. Jesus who you’ve come to the startling conclusion just might be the long-awaited Messiah!
But this meal, for all its familiar sense of warmth and companionship feels somehow different. It is of course no ordinary meal ... it is the Passover meal, so there is that weighty sense of ancient ritual. But there is something different about Jesus himself ... he seems more serious, more inwardly reflective at times. And when he speaks ... well, you’re used to hanging off every word he says ... but tonight, his words, his whole being seem to shimmer with greater intensity.
Then he drops a bombshell: “I am with you only a little longer ... Where I am going you cannot come.”
Your heart freezes. Jesus is leaving us?? This cannot be so!! We have given our whole life over to his radical life-giving way! Peter blurts out what is in all of our minds, “Lord, where are you going? ... Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!”
Jesus tries to console us ... “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he implores. But our hearts are DEEPLY troubled! If Jesus leaves, our whole world will be pulled out from under our feet! We will be gutted and left utterly bereft.
And then, as though he can see right into our still-deeply-troubled hearts (of course he can see into them!), he says something that not only astounds and bewilders but also begins to oddly hearten us: “I will ask God who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever,” he says. “This,” he goes on, “is the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees nor knows the Spirit. YOU know him, because the Spirit abides with you, and will be in you.”
What a promise Jesus made back then to his disciples! He promises that God will give another “Advocate”. The word in Greek is parakletos – a word that is virtually untranslatable. The Revised Standard Version that you heard today uses the Latin-based word advocare which literally means to add a voice of support. Other versions render parakletos as Comforter or Companion or Counselor or Helper. Regardless of how each may fall short of capturing the entire essence, each one certainly names what the disciples so needed to hear ... that Jesus would NOT leave them orphaned ... that he WOULD come to them anew as, what he himself named a few verses later, “the Holy Spirit” (vs 26)
Now I need to stop us in our tracks right here for a moment ... because to my ear, it sounds as though THIS giving of the Holy Spirit is the first time the Holy Spirit is about to appear on the scene of humanity. And yet surely this is not so! Listen to just this small sampling from the expanse of the Hebrew Scriptures:
“In the beginning ... the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” we read in Genesis 1 where we see the Spirit as creative life-force.
“And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered me and set me on my feet,” proclaims the prophet Ezekiel, who like all the prophets, is emboldened by this living Spirit of truth and justice.
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” the Psalmist cries out (Psalm 139:7), reveling in the assurance that the Spirit is everywhere-present.
Fast forward to Jesus’ own time:
In Luke 2 we read of the Holy Spirit as one of vision and wisdom, already resting upon Simeon – “and guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple... when the parents brought in the child Jesus” (Luke 2: 25-27).
At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit – affirming Jesus as Beloved – descends on him like a dove (Mark 1:10).
And it is this same Spirit – this time one of unwavering determination – who drives Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days (Matthew 4:1+)
Early on in his ministry, Jesus proclaims Isaiah’s words as his own, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor ... and release to the captives” (Luke 4:18)
And then of course to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
The Holy Spirit, it would seem then, has been around a long time before Jesus makes this reassuring but radical promise to his disciples that “another Advocate” – the Holy Spirit – will be sent to them. Is there something new, then, in what Jesus promises?
I think YES! And I think the key may lie in the last verses of what we heard today. After Jesus affirms that he will not leave the disciples orphaned, he declares, “I am coming to you”. Even after he has left them, going to his place of death where they cannot possibly follow, he will come to them again ... this time as the Spirit. The astounding news is that Jesus will not become just a memory (poignant and treasured as that may be). The disciples will not just have to rely on their own memories (failing as they may be) of all that Jesus taught and exemplified of who God is and how they were to be in the world. They will in fact be given “another Advocate” ... a new dimension of the Spirit. And they will know this Spirit because it is the very manifestation of Jesus himself – the dynamic continued real presence of the Risen Christ living right within them. “On that day,” Jesus declares, “you will know that I am in my Father-Mother, and you in me, and I in you.” (vs 20).
What a promise Jesus gave back then to the disciples! But wonder of wonders, it is a promise for all who would come after them too! It is a promise for each of us! Jesus asserts that “those who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father-Mother, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. ... we will make our home with them.” (vs 21 & 23). Here we are given the secret of how to encounter, embrace, open ourselves to the Spirit. It is at once perhaps the most difficult thing and yet the simplest: we love. For as we love, we enter the very heart of God ... the very heart of the Spirit of Christ. Just as the disciples would have the Comforter / Companion / Counselor / Helper / Advocate abiding deep within them, guiding and strengthening them as they faced into the challenges that lay ahead, so too do each of us have this extravagantly loving Spirit nourishing and accompanying us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves right now and whatever challenges may yet come our way. Just as the disciples would go on to find themselves far from being bereft – look at how empowered they were by the on-going dynamic Spirit of Christ! – so too can we find ourselves leaning into and being upheld by this living Spirit of Christ as we respond to God’s particular call and presence in our particular lives.
And so this Holy Spirit – the One who has existed from the very beginning of time ...
hovering over all creation
emboldening us to speak truth to power
assuring us that God’s presence is EVERYwhere
bringing us vision and wisdom
affirming us as beloved
compelling us into life-giving wilderness experiences
calling us to bring good news to the poor and release to the oppressed
blowing through us and re-birthing us
... this Holy Spirit – who embodies all of this and more, and all of who Jesus was and ever will be – is given to abide in us.
What might this ever-abiding Spirit of Christ be sparking in you in this moment, in your coming days as they unfold, in the whole rich tapestry of your life? Indeed, Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church ... Hear what the Spirit is saying to each one of us.