Sixth Sunday of Easter Yr A May 17 2020
Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21, Psalm 66:7-18
Today in John’s gospel we hear about Jesus’ promise of another Advocate. This is not the only time Jesus speaks of another Advocate, or Holy Spirit, there are a few more times as the story moves closer to Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, in this farewell part of John’s story. Let’s remember again what is happening here. This scene with the disciples takes place after Judas’ betrayal, and the foreshadowing of Peter’s denial. We just recently heard from Jesus “do not let your hearts be troubled.” This is really hard for the disciples; they know Jesus is leaving them. They really just got used to the incarnation, God in their midst, and now, he’s preparing them for his departure. They must be scared, they are coming to terms, just like we must come to terms, with the truth that anyone who is incarnate, anyone and anything in the flesh, and that is every one of us, will die. That is the truth, it’s the nature of incarnation.
The truth about what it means to be human is not just being born to die as if that’s not hard enough, but all of the other stuff that makes it hard. Just like Judas and Peter, we’re sinners and saints all at the same time. For the disciples here in John, it’s betrayal and denial. I think that is true for us as well. We can add on isolation and alienation. To be human is to trip and fall in the muck and the mess of life. To be human is to believe that we can live our own way, on our own terms, erecting walls and barriers around us, forgetting that it is in relationship, relationship with Jesus, and relationship with one another that our true passions and purposes are called forth. Maybe that’s what we are discovering in this particular time of isolation, we are meant for relationship, we are meant to be connected.
So in the midst of betrayal and denial and fear and disconnection, Jesus promises, “I will not leave you alone.” What is in the flesh must die, but Jesus did not leave the disciples alone, and Jesus does not leave us alone. Can you hear it, can you see it, right here is the promise, “I will give you another Advocate.”
That word, Advocate, is translated in a number of ways, helper, comforter, aider, assistant, intercessor, companion, guide, accompanist. One who accompanies. I want you to hear two important things now. First, Jesus says God will give you another Advocate, do you hear that? Another Advocate, you see, Jesus is the first Advocate, the first accompanist. Second, Jesus does not leave humanity without another accompanist. Holy Spirit, accompanist, the one who abides.
Let’s talk about the word I’ve chosen to describe Advocate, or Holy Spirit. I’ve played flute now for a long time. I was very fortunate, my parents encouraged me, I was in band and able to take private music lessons. Once in high school, there was an expectation that all of the band students would prepare a piece of music and participate in music competition. Again, I was fortunate in that the person from whom I had private flute lessons was a piano player as well, and therefore, an accompanist. Since then, I’ve had some opportunities to play and be accompanied by some pretty wonderful pianists. A great accompanist is a partner in the music. The job of the accompanist is to get the best out of the soloist; to help the soloist to do their very best. When the soloist is nervous, like a high school flute player would be, the accompanist encourages with her playing, and even occasionally covers mistakes. There is a sense of joy in making music by oneself, but I think my greatest musical joy is in making music with others. There is a new creation, a spirit if you will, that lives in the particular time and place that music is made. The picture of the accompanist for me is one of partner, and even co-creator, without whom music is less. The music can be played or sung, but with the accompanist, it is more beautiful, and more fun. It is this image I encourage you to hold on to as we continue to read through John in the next few weeks as we hear more about this Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Accompanist.
With accompanist in mind, we hear Jesus’ words, about another Advocate. We tend to pass over the word, another. I think it’s important that we don’t because it shows us who Jesus – God in our midst – the incarnate one is. Jesus is the first Advocate, or Accompanist. Jesus is the one who accompanies us, plays the music by our side, Jesus is the one who calls the best out of us, Jesus is the one who is forgiving in our mistakes and even raises us up when we think we cannot go on, Jesus is the one who makes the music of our lives beautiful.
And as Jesus leaves, as all incarnation must, Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus gives us another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Accompanist, to be our partner in making beautiful music, to lift us up when we fall in the muck and the mess, to inspire us when it feels like the music has died, to accompany us on the way of love. The Holy Spirit is our accompanist.
You see, all these words that John uses to describe Jesus, Holy Spirt, point us to the deeply intimate relationship of Jesus and humanity. To abide, to dwell. They describe Jesus’ relationship with us, they describe the Spirit’s relationship with us, deeply intimate, deeply knowing. Jesus is with us, Spirit accompanies us and is present with us, we are never left alone.
This is always good news. Do not fear, do not let your hearts be troubled, in the midst of isolation we are not alone. In the midst of the pain of separation we are not alone. In the midst of betrayal and denial we are not alone. In the midst of despair, we are not alone. When we are apart, one from another, we are not alone. We are accompanied on this way of love. We go forth on this way of love. This is Holy Spirit, raising us up, making us better, making the music with us.