Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A
By the Rev. Darren Miner
We are now in the sixth week of Easter, and the lectionary is preparing us for two upcoming feasts, Ascension Day and Pentecost. The readings begin to hint at Jesus’ departure from the earth and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
But today’s Gospel actually takes place weeks earlier, at the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing his disciples for life after his death. And he makes them a conditional promise: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And 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…”
I believe that this promise applies to us today as much as it ever did to the confused disciples gathered in that upper room at the Last Supper. We too are expected to keep the Lord’s commandments. Now, Orthodox Jews are supposed to keep track of 613 biblical commandments. But followers of Jesus have it easy. We are expected to remember only three: 1) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; 2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and 3) you shall love one another just as Christ loved us. Easy enough to remember, but not so easy to practice!
But the reward for our commitment to love is the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus refers to as “another Advocate.” The Greek word translated as “advocate” is “parakletos.” It’s basic meaning is someone called to stand by one’s side, and it can be translated in a variety of ways: advocate, mediator, intercessor, helper, comforter, adviser. And the Holy Spirit is meant to be all of these to us. One thing the “parakletos” is not is a “bystander.” Bystanders are people who are present, but do not take any action. That is not the Holy Spirit at all! The Spirit is all about action. And fortunately for us, the Spirit often comes to stand by our side even when we forget to call him there.
But not everyone, we are told, has access to the Spirit. Jesus warns that the world cannot receive him. Remember that in John’s Gospel the word “world” is a code word for those who actively oppose Jesus and his teaching. Those who reject the One who is Truth cannot receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Here we are speaking of the consequences of rejecting Truth Incarnate. But something similar occurs, albeit to a lesser degree, when we reject more everyday kinds of truth, in other words, when we lie or when we knowingly choose to believe a lie. Unrepentant liars cut themselves off from the Spirit. With each additional lie, they make themselves less and less capable of receiving the Holy Spirit and his gifts. And when we choose to believe a lie, or to act as if we do, because we think it serves us better than the truth, then we distance ourselves from the Spirit of Truth.
But those who practice love and walk in the way of truth know the Spirit intimately, for the Spirit abides with them and within them. In this time of social isolation, it is helpful to be reminded of this fact, to be reminded that we are never alone—not so long as we practice love, not so long as we cleave to the truth, not so long as we remember to call the Holy Spirit to our side. So, the next time you are feeling lonely or bereft, call upon the Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide, and open your heart to his presence. Your prayer might be as simple as “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” Sit quietly for a time with God’s Spirit—or chat with him, if you prefer! Then, join your voice to that of the psalmist, who rejoices: “In truth God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld his love from me.” Alleluia!
© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.