The words of Jesus we have just heard (John 14:15-21) are part of a long ‘goodbye’ to his disciples at the Last Supper i.e. his last meal with them before being arrested. In this section he explains that although he soon will be taken away from them, he will be with them in a new way, continuing to support them in their relationship with God.
Previous to this he had spoken of his own close relationship with God. Now, he says, he wants to bring them into this relationship. You have this, he tells them, by believing in him and putting his teaching into practice. His teaching is to keep his commandment of love – to love others as he has he has loved us.
To love, as Jesus taught, is to “love our enemies, to be warm to those who are cold to us, to be kind to those who are cruel to us, to do good to those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us, to forgive those who won’t forgive us, and, ultimately, to love and forgive those who are trying to kill us.” (Ronald Rolheiser) And, let us not forget, this includes loving those other people we are spending our quarantine with, in the same space with the same people for weeks on end. Jesus will dwell or abide, he says – in an invisible way – in those who love in this way.
Another way in which he will be with them will be through what he calls an Advocate. The word originally meant a helper or assistant at one’s side during a trial. He had already been assisting them in their faith and knowledge of God. When he leaves them, he says, he will send a new assistant or Advocate to be by their side and help them.
He will not leave them as orphans. An orphan then was a child whose parents had either died or permanently abandoned them. As it was one of the worst forms of existence imaginable, Jews were obliged to have a special concern and care for them. Don’t fear, says Jesus: I may be physically leaving you but I will not abandoned you and leave you helpless. I will send an assistant – whom we refer to today as the Holy Spirit (i.e. the ghost or spirit of the Risen Jesus) – to keep you close to me and draw you into the closest relationship with God. And then, when they receive this assistant, they will ‘understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.’
In the past eight weeks of the lockdown, people have told me that they have spent some of the time sorting and clearing out drawers and cupboards. In doing they said they found all sorts of things they forgot they had. Some of them were gifts that seldom if ever were used. Yet they were there all the time.
For some of us, you could say, the Advocate Jesus speaks of can be like one of those unused items in the cupboard we forgot we had. The presence of Christ’s Spirit in our lives is a dimension of our faith that’s easy to forget. Yet, whether we are aware of it or not, Jesus says this Advocate is with you, he is in you.
So, perhaps, it is timely for us all in this time of lockdown to be reminded that the relationship I have with Jesus is not just with him alone. When he says: I am in my Father and you in me and I in you, he means that the invisible force of his Spirit draws us into a relationship of love with him and, through him, to God the Father.
And especially in this time of lockdown, when to be over 70 years of age and living alone can be an anxious or fearful thing, it is timely to hear Jesus telling us that however alone or isolated I may feel, I am not an orphan or abandoned in God’s sight. I am part of the very inner life and mystery of God.
Holy Name, Jesmond
17 May 2020