Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of last week’s. Last week we considered God’s promise of comfort and hope for those who are prepared to accept that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And this week Jesus is making an even bigger promise.
This part of the gospel narrative occurs in the upper room during the Last Supper. Jesus is in the final moments of preparing himself and his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them.
If you read this narrative as a whole, you will feel the confusion and fear mounting as the reality of the situation dawns upon his closest followers.
But … as well as giving the disciples (and us) the comfort and hope that we heard last week, Jesus also promises not to abandon those who believe in him with feelings of desolation and loss – they (we) will not be left as orphans.
So … how is this going to be achieved? How can the followers of Christ feel anything but abandonment, desolation and loss when they come to the moment of seeing his broken body hanging on a cross?
Of course, we know of the resurrection – of Christ’s triumph over death. The disciples did not – they had to go through the pain, and then the uncertainty and, then, finally, the profound joy.
So, for those disciples, in that upper room, Jesus’ talk of leaving them must have felt like the ultimate abandonment. After all they had experienced together – Jesus was leaving.
Imagine yourself in their position for a moment.
Would you still be reeling from the news of Jesus’ imminent departure, or would you be allowing yourself to be comforted by his promises for the future?
Perhaps, in our current social crisis, it is not so difficult to put ourselves in that position.
- We are being told of a brighter, healthier future – but do we believe it?
- As the experts try to reassure us – do we believe them?
- Or do we allow the commentators, the journalists and the doom-mongers to win the day?
That is where the disciples were 2000 years ago.
But … the promises that were being made to them were not being made by politicians, commentators or journalists – those promises were being made by Jesus Christ himself.
And what promises!!
Jesus was promising that after his death in this world – after the moment when he returned to his Father in heaven – he would send an Advocate to be with humanity for the rest of time.
That Advocate would come to act as comforter, helper, guide and intercessor – just as Jesus had taken on that role for the three years of his public ministry.
The Advocate foretold and promised by Jesus is a very special gift from God.
The Advocate, who Jesus names as the Spirit of Truth, is not simply an example of the human spirit at its best. Nor is this gift some spark of divinity that has somehow broken loose from the Godhead.
The Advocate, helper and guide of whom Jesus speaks is so much more than anything we can define or comprehend – this Advocate is True God from True God.
We really can use the same language for the Spirit as the creed uses of Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father.
This very personal, third dimension of the Godhead – the link between the Father and the Son – will now link the Father and the Son to us – the followers of Jesus throughout time.
And therein lies another truth about the Advocate of which Jesus speaks … Jesus says that the world can neither see nor know the Spirit, because this gift is only for those who follow him.
In two weeks’ time we will be celebrating the great festival of Pentecost – the moment in the Church’s calendar when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit among us.
On that day we will hear from scripture how the world at large viewed the disciples who were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit – we will read that they must be drunk!
The world will demonstrate that it can see the Spirit at work in Jesus’ followers, whilst also demonstrating that it cannot comprehend that same Spirit.
That whole scene, from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, demonstrates something else that is important about Jesus’ promised Advocate.
Jesus does not promise that the Holy Spirit will be a mere presence in this world – Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will abide with us, and in us.
The Holy Spirit of God, the Advocate between us and God, will dwell among us and in us – both individually and collectively – if we will accept and welcome him.
When we are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives. The moment of baptism does not just empower us for a new life in Christ, it is also the moment when we share, with those first disciples, a very specific link to Christ himself.
As an electric cable brings power to make the light bulb shine out, so the Holy Spirit links us to God. Through that link, Christ’s promised presence enlightens us – so that we might shine with his light in this darkened, troubled and divided world.
As well as Jesus’ promise of the Advocate, there is another element in today’s gospel reading that we cannot ignore.
The gospel opens with these words:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And then, the gospel concludes with these words:
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;
and those who love me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
‘Love’, in this context, is not about sentiment or emotion. This ‘love’ is about devotion.
Jesus is not trying to manipulate our feelings when he speaks these words – rather, he is asking so much more than that of us.
Jesus is asking us to commit ourselves to obeying his command to love and serve.
In the gospel narrative, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are those that call us to love God, and to love our neighbours. To keep these commandments is to show just how much we love Jesus himself.
Authentic love – the love of which Jesus speaks – is best demonstrated in the way we live our lives with, and for, one another – following the model Jesus gave us throughout his earthly life.
When we decide to welcome Christ into our lives, and to be obedient to his commandments –
- then the Holy Spirit enters our lives –
- then the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts –
- then the Holy Spirit becomes the One who makes our lives shine with our commitment to Christ.
This is the God that dwells within us – through the Holy Spirit the risen Christ enters us, fills us, uses us, and leads us to a life that none of us could otherwise have chosen or found.
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.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!