Today’s feast invites us to consider our unique Christian understanding of God. In our limited capacity to comprehend the Divine, we understand from revelation in the Scriptures that there is one God, the Creator of all, who has three distinct natures of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is far from easy to understand and any effort to explain it leaves me recalling one of my college professors saying: ‘explain a mystery and you explain it away’.
So what are we make of this? Well, let’s look at what’s in today’s Gospel text – John 16:12-15. These verses come towards the end of Jesus’ long address to his disciples, at the Last Supper, before he is arrested. (This Passover meal is represented in the carved frontal piece of our church altar.) In the early part of this ‘speech’, as we heard last week on Pentecost Sunday, Jesus offers assurance to the disciples that although he will be physically absent from their lives, they will be given an assistant or Advocate to be with them in the (invisible) form of what the Scriptures also call the Holy Spirit. (Interestingly, as I learned recently, Muslims interpret this Advocate to be the Prophet Mohammed.)
In today’s text Jesus is speaking to these disciples about their future. He assures them that they will share in his victory over the ‘world’ i.e. his eventual overcoming the dark forces that oppose him. And they must know, he says, that whatever shape their future takes, they will not have to face it alone. They will be given what he calls the ‘Spirit of Truth’.
What is this Spirit of Truth?
Jesus insisted, to the fury of the Jewish elders, that what he reveals (about God) comes directly from God the Father. ‘My word is not my own’, he says, ‘but the word of the one who sent me.’ He claims to be the definitive mouthpiece or channel through whom God speaks. But when he is no longer physically present with them – after he returns to the Father – he says the Father will send the Holy Spirit to continue making Jesus’ teaching ‘known’ or meaningful to them – and not just to them but to succeeding generations of believers like us. This ‘Spirit’ will guide people to the Truth about God, the truth that Jesus has revealed. Hence, his reference to this as the ‘Spirit of Truth’.
This same Spirit is there to guide and support us in our relationship with God through following the teaching of Jesus. This Spirit draws us – weak, fragile, sinful and messed-up as we are – into the life and love of God. And no personal failing, mistake or sin can debar us from this love: no sin of ours is greater than the love of God revealed to us by Jesus and made present in us by the Holy Spirit.
Holy Name, Jesmond
12 June 2022