By the Rev. Darren Miner
We finding ourselves nearing the end of Eastertide. Just two more weeks to go. This coming Thursday is Ascension Day, when the Church commemorates the final farewell of the Risen Christ. The feast of Pentecost is on the 15th, when we will commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Today, it seems, we are meant to look ahead to these two events and to prepare. I suppose that’s why the editors of the lectionary offer a Gospel reading from the farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Because, in this brief excerpt from that long discourse, Jesus tries to prepare his original disciples for his imminent departure from this world and for the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Inexplicably, the editors of the lectionary have omitted the question which prefaces today’s Gospel reading: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” For Jesus had just stated that in a little while the world would no longer see him, but his disciples would see him. As Jesus is wont to do, he offers a response to a question that is not exactly an answer: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Now, he could have just explained that he had been talking about his future Resurrection appearances to the faithful. But instead of answering Judas’ question, Jesus says what he thinks needs to be said. He asks his closest disciples to keep his word, to follow his teachings, to be obedient to his commandments—in short, to stand by him, even when he is gone.
Jesus puts before his disciples a test of their faithfulness: if they love him, they will show it by following the love ethic at the heart of his every word and action. They will love God. The will love their brothers and sisters in Christ. They will love the stranger. They will even love their enemy. Now, by love, Jesus didn’t mean affection. Love for Jesus was less of an emotion and more of an action. You show your love when you feed the hungry. You show your love when you visit the sick. You show your love when you acknowledge the homeless beggar, even if you can’t spare a dime. You show your love when you come to church week after week, even when you feel exhausted. And last but not least, you show your love when you vote for a leader who cares about the weak and welcomes the refugee.
Now, back at the Last Supper, Jesus already knew that he was about to leave his disciples. He knew that, after his arrest and crucifixion, they would feel abandoned and afraid. And he attempts to comfort them with the promise that they will not, in fact, be on their own. Up to now, Jesus has been their Advocate and Comforter. He has stood with them and looked after them. Since this relationship is about to end, Jesus attempts to reassure his disciples that, after he has returned to the Father and entered into his former glory, another Advocate will be sent from the Father to guide the struggling community of faith. This Advocate will be known as the Holy Spirit.
Now the Greek word parákletos, translated here as advocate, means anyone called to one’s side for assistance. Depending upon the context, it can mean advocate, defending attorney, intercessor, mediator, adviser, helper, comforter, sidekick, or bodyguard! But the job that Jesus actually specifies here is that of teacher. The Spirit will teach us everything we need to know in order to be saved, guiding us ever deeper into the truth about God, building upon the foundation laid by Jesus himself. As we know from the Acts of the Apostles, those original disciples were not abandoned when Jesus returned to the Father; likewise, we are not abandoned. The Holy Spirit is here in our midst at this very moment. The Spirit is present whenever even two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ. Through the Spirit, we have access not only to the truth, but to a peace that surpasses all understanding. Jesus knew that his disciples would suffer. Most of them would be martyred. But he told them to have courage and to be at peace. For no matter what the ruler of this world might do to them, they would never be separated from God’s love, if they but remained faithful. The same offer applies to us today. If we believe in Jesus Christ and are faithful in love, we too will experience God’s loving presence, now and forever.
On Ascension Day (or to be precise, the preceding Tuesday), we will celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ was restored to his rightful glory, even though it meant he departed from us. On Pentecost, we will celebrate the gift of the Spirit, sent to stand by our side forever. But today, we gather to encourage one another to keep Christ’s command to walk in love. For it is by obeying Jesus’ commandment to love that we make room in our community, and in our souls, for God to dwell. When we fill ourselves with fear or hate, with selfishness or greed, with scorn or indifference, there is no room for God. But if we keep Christ’s word, then the Father and the Son will dwell with us. And if we stand by Christ, perfect God and perfect man, then the Spirit will stand by us.
Now, I think we’d all agree that it is far easier to remember the words of a song than it is to remember the words of a Sunday sermon. So let me end with some very memorable words from that great country-western singer (and theologian) Tammy Wynette:
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him.
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.
© 2016 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.