When I read or hear the Gospels, one of the important themes I sometimes miss is the grief of Jesus's friends at his absence. They've walked with him, heard him teach, seen him heal, and watched him arrested and executed. They heard the story of his rising from the tomb, and they've seen and even eaten with him afterward. But he ascends to "the right hand of the Father" in Heaven. This just means that he is present wherever the power of God is present--that is, everywhere--and so closer to them, in a way, than ever before. But they can't see him or hear him or touch him as they did. And they grieve this absence.
At least that's the sense I get from the stories. It's the sense I get when I read the passages of John's Gospel about what will happen after Jesus departs. So it's important that Jesus, before his arrest, promises to them that he will send something he calls the "Advocate." The Greek word has the literal sense of someone called alongside of you, for example when you are on your way to court. It is sometimes translated as "Comforter" or "Helper." Jesus insists that he won't leave them without comfort, or help, or an advocate. But the Holy Spirit will do this for them. If Jesus remained among them as he had always been, they would never be able to stray from him. But with the help of the Advocate, they can go anywhere--even to places where they don't know the language or the culture or the religion. The little assembly of disciples needed Jesus to leave, in fact, if they were going to bring Jesus to the ends of the earth by their words and deeds.
I talked about this passage on a recent Wednesday at Wauconda Care Center, to a group of about ten people. And I thought about how important it is for people who living in permanent nursing care, or with a disability, or in foster care, or with chronic violence at home or on the street, or with toxic air or water, that they have an Advocate. The Holy Spirit who comes alongside us, to strengthen and encourage, to reassure us when we are doubting or hurting or lonely, to advocate for us against the slanders and deceptions of the devil, is the same Holy Spirit who empowers us to strengthen, reassure, and advocate for each other. For Pastor Betty Rendon, who was taken out of her home in her pajamas, taken away from her church and daughter and granddaughter and deported to Colombia last month. We bore witness to her humanity, and to the community that loved her. It wasn't enough. But who would we be--what would the church be--if no voice spoke on behalf of someone in this situation?
In this season of Pentecost, we are given the task of growing into our role as disciples. We are gathered, as those first disciples were, at the feet of Jesus, hearing his words and sharing the presence of his Body and Blood in the sacrament. But like those first disciples we are sent out, with our Advocate beside us, to do hard things, speak difficult truths, and reach places we never expected to go.
See you in church!