In the Gospel text for today’s Mass (John 14:23-29) we hear Jesus promising his disciples at the Last Supper – in part of a long farewell discourse – that after he left them God would send them an ‘Advocate’. Although he would be physically absent – because he was ‘going to the Father’ in heaven – this ‘assistant’ or ‘helper’ would draw them into the life of love that exists between him and God the Father.
For this to happen they, first of all, had to ‘keep my word’, that is, they had to continue to respond to what Jesus had revealed to them and live by his challenging teaching. If they did this, he promised that ‘my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’. He and God the Father would not be distant in the heavens but living inside the heart of each one of them. While he, Jesus, might not be physically with them anymore they would not be alone: this ‘Advocate’ would draw them into the intimate life of Father and Son.
Then drawn into this ‘inner life’ of God, they would be given the gift of peace: ‘Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you’.
What exactly does Jesus mean by ‘peace’? His peace is not the absence of conflict or having a trouble-free life. Jesus grants a peace in which I experience what it means to be known and loved by God, that I am drawn into the very life of God through my relationship with Jesus. It is a peace not from avoiding or escaping problems but enduring them, knowing that He, Jesus, is bearing them with me. With this peace comes a freedom to trust that there is a God-given purpose to my life. With this peace I need not be ‘troubled or afraid’ when problems or crises arise or when life goes badly wrong: with Christ’s peace, whatever might happen, I am secure in God’s love.
The challenge for us, hearing this Word of God, is to become more aware of how in each moment of our lives – whether we are conscious of it or not – we each are ‘caught up’ in the love that flows between Jesus and his Father. With Jesus I am never alone: I am part of his relationship with the Father, drawn into it by the ‘Advocate’ that God has sent to each one of us.
As time went by, Christians came to associate the role of this Advocate with the work of what we now call the Holy Spirit. In our version of the Gospel text the Greek word is translated as “advocate”, others prefer the word “counsellor” while the King James Version used the word “comforter”. It’s Comforter that we use in our next hymn when we pray:
Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing.
O Comforter draw near, within my heart appear
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
Holy Name, Jesmond
26 May 2019