A Parting Gift

a Sermon for Easter 6C

Text: John 14:23-29

lonely tree

 Jesus the Rambler

In the gospel we call John, Jesus is a rambler. Again this week we are in the farewell discourse that runs through chapters 13-16. It is Thursday of Holy Week and Jesus is giving the final teachings. And He seems to have slipped into repetitiveness and circular arguments. He is going away but He is still here. It is so metaphysically confusing, we might not know which way is up.

This week, we get a tangle of familiar elements: love, loss, presence, relationship: elements we’ve been tangling with for several weeks.

Just before our reading, in verses 18-20, Jesus says:

“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.”

What a powerful testimony. “I will not leave you orphaned”.

Throughout this section, Jesus is giving them assurance. He is announcing what is to happen and assuring them that they need not fear it. We hear these words as comforting, but I wonder if the disciples did. I wonder if these words didn’t frighten them more. Like a parent telling the children not to worry, we’ll be back soon.

Not so comforting

In dealing with this we might also be tempted to dwell on the timing. The day before His crucifixion, Jesus says I’m leaving, but I’ll be back. Reading this now, in Easter, when Jesus has come back, we may ear this as the resurrection. That, in rising from the dead, Jesus has fulfilled this claim and returns for a time to be with his disciples.

Later this week, on Thursday, we celebrate the Ascension, when Jesus leaves again.

We believe that Jesus died and was raised. And we usually stop there, making the stories of Jesus’s return and ascension less considered. As if the death and resurrection was the entirety of the story. Much of Christian theology has been obsessively concerned with and reduced all of our belief to the ramifications of those two moments. Are we then to take Jesus’s second departure as the permanent one? Jesus’s claim that He won’t leave us orphaned rings hollow when we recognize that Jesus goes away…twice. And, in the narrative at least, stays away.

And to add insult, He seems to leave behind a babysitter in the Holy Spirit. No offense to the Spirit, but when a kid feels abandoned, some replacement Mom just isn’t enough.

Who is the Advocate?

The word used here is Advocate. The Greek is “Paraclete” which seems to have a legal application here. A legal advocate, like an aid, counselor, or lawyer. The word also has a physical association of “standing next to”. Of being with someone, by them, in the midst of adversity. This is a more telling understanding than we know, for in departing from us, Jesus will take with him future teaching, leaving behind only His past teaching.

And yet, Jesus focuses on his disciples knowing that teaching. In verse 15, which kicks off this section, Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. This, of course, is almost immediately after giving the command to love one another. Keep what I have taught you he seems to say, and the Holy Spirit will dwell within you. Jesus can say to His disciples that they won’t be orphaned because GOD will take up residence within those who continue to follow Jesus after the physical form goes away.

What Jesus leaves behind and continues to give is not order or structure or rules or advice or tips or pithy words of encouragement, but peace. Something that can’t be bought or sold or manufactured or mass-produced or copyrighted or made proprietary or grown organically or bartered or given away. It isn’t born here or made here. It is given to those who know GOD and let GOD take up residence within them.

Gift giving

What Jesus is promising to us is way bigger than we think, and certainly beyond what the disciples were worried about. They worried that their messiah was going away. Jesus tells them He isn’t really leaving, so there is certain comfort in that assurance.

But Jesus’s presence signals a change. Like last week, in which we explored the new power of the community, born of the Spirit, to succeed Jesus in ministry, Jesus is setting us up for a new understanding. An understanding that is not trapped in a historical event or encased in the amber of analysis, but lived out in the experience of living a present relationship with the divine. That in following Jesus, we have within us what others do not. We have purpose. We have love. We have peace.

And most importantly, inside of us, we have GOD.

These things, this relationship, cannot be taken away or destroyed. We have what we need. We have the Paraclete beside us and GOD within us.

It begins with remembering what Jesus has taught us. About love, relationship, and sacrifice. So we remember.

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