Sunday, May 17, 2020
How do you say good-bye to people you love, when you know you might not see them again for a long time, if not forever? When I graduated from college, I left pretty quickly for a year of living abroad as a Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer in Slovakia. Facebook and Skype were new technologies, and my primary form of communication with my family was still on a calling card. I am blessed to have a strong group of girlfriends from college. Even when I lived abroad, they would send me cards, packages and emails. We still keep in touch and gather occasionally for reunions, but some I truly have not seen and may not see in the flesh for the rest our lifetimes. We can sustain our friendship over the years over long distance, but I know I still need friends who are close by to hang out with in person. It’s hard to say good-bye, and to say good-bye well.
Closer to our situation today, there are family members and friends that we may think back to February and wish we had given them one more hug, had one more meal out together or evening at one of our homes before stay at home orders went into place. Technology from the good old handwritten card in the mail to the phone call and Zoom keep us connected, but we are still apart, and the longer this goes on, the more we feel it. For most of our school-age children, they have not had an opportunity to say good-bye to their friends or teachers as the school year comes to an end. It is into this reality of sudden good-byes and absence of Christ’s physical presence that Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned. The Advocate will be with you forever. He abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Today our gospel continues Jesus’ speech to his disciples on the night that he was betrayed and handed over to be crucified. It’s a little strange, I suppose, to go back to the night before Jesus was crucified during the season where we celebrate Easter and Christ’s resurrection. However, this week we celebrate Christ’s Ascension this Thursday, May 21: his final departure from this world. My guess is that as Jesus prepared the disciples for his second departure on his ascension into heaven, they were remembering what he told them on this night before he was crucified. This time, they wanted to say good-bye well. Remember that the disciples have been with Jesus almost daily for three years. Think of how many good memories they have, and the friendship that they were able to cultivate over those years. These disciples have already endured the grief and shock of his death, then the joy of his resurrection. He promised to be with them for fifty more days, and then leave them again…forever. They have to have had a hard time with this news that he was leaving them again. How could they say good-bye? What would they do without him?
The message from God to us today is very simple, yet profound. When we feel most alone, which may be the case for many of us right now, God is still with us, not only comforting us and being right there beside us, but living IN us. Jesus of Nazareth as a mortal human could not stay with us forever, yet even death could not defeat the power of God living in him and living in us. Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is with us forever. Jesus’ good-bye to his disciples before dying on the cross, and again his farewell before ascending into heaven, is not a final good-bye, but a “see you later.” We have a hope that is in us that we will be reunited with those we love and who have loved us, both in this world as we trust the ultimate defeat of this pandemic, but also in the world to come. And we have Christ’s assurance that God’s Spirit will walk alongside us and even live in us always, even when we are alone. And one day, we like the disciples, will see Christ face to face.
As we approach the season of Pentecost at the end of this month, we turn our attention to the Holy Spirit, which was the breath of God that spoke life into being from the beginning and was always a part of God, yet is the most overlooked person of the Trinity. Our translation calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate. The Greek word is “Paraclete” which literally means “one who calls alongside.” The Holy Spirit walks alongside us as our advocate. Like our defense attorney, the Spirit will represent us tirelessly and faithfully on our behalf. Perhaps my favorite translation of this passage is from the King James Version, which calls the Holy Spirit our Comforter and promises that Jesus will not leave us comfortless. We all could use God’s comforting presence with us today. Jesus will not leave us orphaned, alone, or comfortless. Jesus’ good-bye is a “see you later,” but he also promises that God will never abandon us. God is our great comforter, one who walks alongside us and advocates for us, that we might continue to have life in him, life abundant and life eternal. And should we doubt God’s presence and abiding with us, we have only to re-read God’s Word for us today in these scriptures to see how God tells us exactly what we need to hear, right now, for our situation today. Certainly, God is with us always, comforting us, guiding us, walking alongside us. And God will never leave us. Jesus promises he will see us later, face to face once again. Thanks be to God. Amen.