(for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014)
‘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 for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.’ (John 14:15-21, NRSV).
Our passage continues Jesus’ offer of comfort to his disciples. He is in the middle of breaking the unwelcome news that they will soon be without him.
The disciples are burdened by this revelation. They now expect not the delights of victory but the bewilderment of loss. Such knowledge heightens their awareness of the depth of affection that has developed. They have become unimaginably close to the one who called them on this incredible journey.
And Jesus dares to name this response as ‘love’.
As Jesus crafts these final instructions he builds on these deep, strong emotions. The obedience this nurtures will become the foundation from which God’s mission will rise. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ and, they ‘who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me’ bookend our passage.
Until now there has been little talk of a continued presence. Jesus uses the language of absence and going. Only now does he begin to talk also of a coming. There will soon be an ‘Advocate’.
Sometimes we are tempted to talk of the Holy Spirit apart from Jesus. Of course, if we are faithful trinitarians, we could never do this openly or directly. But we still do it.
For some the Spirit of God sits best in the too-hard-basket. We may associate this Spirit with something less comfortable than the familiar ways of Jesus. Of course we can just as easily go the other way. The Holy Spirit can become the only way God is revealed. The Spirit can dominate our perceptions of God and overshadow the life of Jesus. It amounts to another form of the same separation.
Perhaps this pendulum is not such a disaster. Indeed we learn not by maintaining perfect balance but by getting off balance. If the twelve disciples are an example of anything it is the art of making mistakes while journeying alongside God.
Even so, our passage remains a corrective for both extremes.
Here Jesus deliberately and consistently emphasises the similarities between himself and the Spirit of God. Only a few verses earlier Jesus describes himself as ‘the truth’. Here he is pointing to the ‘Spirit of truth’. Jesus also introduces this one as their ‘Advocate’, one who will be on their side. This name is modified by the word: ‘another’. It links Jesus’ ministry with the one to come. And then there is an even more direct parallel: ‘you in me, and I in you’.
Clearly, it is the Spirit of Jesus who will remain at their side.
Jesus is right: his followers are not left ‘orphaned’ or in danger of being entrusted to a stranger. Rather they remain in the very care of the one they have come to love.
And as they live and demonstrate their ever-deepening affection for Jesus they are entering the divine spiral of love. If Jesus’ final sentence tells us anything it is that this obedient love ushers them into relationship with the Godhead. As Jesus said: ‘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 and relationship all round!
It all leaves me with the suspicion that the Holy Spirit dwells among us for exactly this reason: to ‘reveal’ Jesus to us.