Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 17, 2020
6th Sunday of Easter
The gospel reading for this 6th Sunday of Easter is set in the Upper Room on Thursday of Holy Week—the evening before the crucifixion. After sharing a meal with his disciples, Jesus offers words of encouragement because he knows he is about to leave, and they are afraid. Jesus, who holds the key to abundant life, promises that he will not leave them abandoned, orphaned, alone. Instead, he will send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
But how can the disciples possibly relate to the living Jesus when he is no longer with them? The answer is that once Jesus leaves, his presence will be made known in a different way—through the person of the Spirit. Jesus calls this person “Paraklētos.” The word “Paraclete” means “someone called alongside” to help or assist. “Paraclete” is also translated as Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter. Thus, we can safely say that the Holy Spirit serves as counselor, advocate, intercessor, comforter, strengthener, and helper.
It is noteworthy that Jesus does not say that the Father will provide “an Advocate,” but “another Advocate.” In other words, Jesus is also an Advocate. The implication is that Jesus has been God’s counselor for believers up to this point. It is true that Jesus and the Spirit have some similar functions. They both come from the Father and are sent into the world. Both teach, bear witness to the truth, and expose the sin of the world. Yet calling the Spirit “another Advocate” does not mean the Spirit is “another Jesus.” Rather, the Spirit continues Jesus’ work of love in the world. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus—with the same challenges—the same blessings—the same provision for a full life, a whole life—shalom—in this life and in the life to come.
A full life—a whole life—in this life… For many of us, life feels anything but full and whole during this global pandemic. Our world has suffered unimaginable loss in the past few months. Many of us have suffered loss, too. We may have lost loved ones whom we have been unable to grieve. We may have lost time spent with family and friends celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings, recitals, or vacations. We may have lost employment or financial security. Loss—no matter the source—is difficult and it is worthy of acknowledgement. In the words of preaching professor, David Lose:
As a culture, we are not terribly good about talking about loss. I don’t know if it’s because it challenges the eternally optimistic stance we are encouraged to take, counters our celebration of youth and opportunity, or reminds us of our own mortality. But for whatever reason, we seem as a culture to lack the resources and emotional wherewithal to acknowledge the losses we, and those around us, suffer. Not sure what to say when confronted by a friend who has recently suffered the loss of a loved one or gone through a divorce, we turn away, leaving the person feeling all the more isolated.[i]
When Jesus was crucified, there is no doubt that the disciples felt tremendous loss. While we know the rest of the story—that death could not hold Christ in the grave—the disciples did not. Surely, they gathered in each other’s homes to mourn their loss, to share stories, to hold one another close. As we shelter in place to keep ourselves and others safe, though, these options are not available to us. We cannot safely gather in each other’s homes. We cannot hug one another to offer comfort. How then shall we express our loss, our grief? Perhaps we can start by recognizing our feelings for what they are. We can name them out loud, and then, with all the faith we can muster, we can ask Christ for the comfort of his own Spirit, and ask the Spirit to show us creative ways that we may offer comfort to others.
God’s Spirit is something we need now more than ever. As one author notes,
The world has in fact begun to crack. The moment of truth for humanity seems to have arrived. We seem destined for destruction at our own hands. But behold, miracle of miracles, out of the cracks a light shines. The venomous snake has not crushed the light. The light burns. It gives warmth. It gives hope. And as the dreamer timidly advances towards the light, he discovers that there are many, many others who are also moving toward it from different directions…from across human barriers, from behind the walls of our own frightened souls. Yes, we all need that light, for that light is the only hope…[ii]
We all need that light for that light is our only hope.
We are Easter people who have rejoiced at Christ’s resurrection. We have traveled with him as he revealed himself to the disciples as the Risen Lord. Soon, we will turn our faces toward his Ascension and then to Pentecost. It is good that we have taken this journey together. It is good to meditate on Christ’s promise of another Advocate, who leads us into truth and equips us for the work of sharing God’s love in the world! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] David Lose http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3226
[ii] Choan-Seng Song, The Compassionate God, 260.
*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription.