Way back in January, we heard stories about Jesus meeting his first disciples. In one account, Jesus was out walking, and as he passed John the Baptiser, John pointed to Jesus, and called him the Lamb of God. Jesus stopped, and he asked John’s disciples, “What are you looking for?” And they replied “Teacher, where are you abiding?” “Where are you staying? Where are you making your home?” His answer was: “Come and see!” And so they left John and they followed Jesus through the days and weeks and months described in the Gospel. They ate and drank, together and with others. They went to houses and tombs and weddings and wells. They sailed back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, moving between Jewish and Gentile territories, all under the power of Rome. And as they lived and journeyed together, the disciples watched Jesus healing and teaching and loving and forgiving and breaking bread with people. Finally, he was killed, and the question they began with still hung in the air: Teacher, where are you abiding?
Tonight, we learn more. For tonight we hear Jesus talking with his disciples just before his death. And he tells them that the Father will give them another Advocate to be with them forever. Then he says, “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 …” And we already know that, after his death, Jesus came to his disciples, and breathed his Spirit into them, and sent them as God’s agents into the world. So the new Advocate—his Spirit—was breathed into them.
Question: Teacher, where are you abiding?
New Answer: In you. In you, and in everyone who loves Jesus, forever.
The Advocate promised by Jesus is the Spirit. Jesus gave up his Spirit on the cross. He breathed it into the first disciples in the locked house, and later it was poured out onto every disciple at Pentecost. In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, our teacher and friend, is alive in you and in all who love him.
That’s why we’ve been telling each other stories about the times we have experienced the presence of God. Do you remember them? Dave told us about curling up with his son as he was going to sleep. Shelley wrote about giving birth under the loving eyes of her husband and a friend. The grown up Olivia described the very best of hugs; the other Olivia, being cared for when she was sick. Anita remembered a time when visitors were made deeply welcome. People listened to Janine, Louise, and others when life felt hard; people cared for Mercy, Joy, Joel and others when they hurt themselves. Paul felt God’s presence when a group of people prayed for him; Asher, when someone gave his family a special holiday. Rose and others told stories of kids caring for them when they felt scared or alone.
Do you see what these stories have in common? Every story is about a time when someone has come alongside another person, and offered help, or comfort, or strength, or love, or healing.
Jesus promised another Advocate: and an Advocate is one who comes alongside to help, comfort, strengthen, love, or heal. We know from tonight’s story that those who love Jesus are loved by God, and filled with the life-force of love: the Spirit, or Jesus’ inner life. And this Spirit is poured out every time one person comes alongside another to help, comfort, strengthen, love, and heal. Two thousand years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our stories of experiencing the presence of God through the presence of another person witness to this truth: the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the new Advocate, abides in ordinary people like you and me.
The Gospel of John begins with a question; it ends with a final invitation from Jesus: “Follow me!” When we follow Jesus through the days and weeks and months and years, eating and drinking together and with others; spending time in people’s houses and at funerals, at weddings and at pubs; moving between church and school and sport and work, all under the power of late capitalism; when we live and journey together, watching our companions healing and teaching and loving and forgiving and breaking bread with people, and healing, teaching, loving, forgiving and sharing food ourselves, we discover the fullness of God’s love and resurrection life, a love and life which will pour into us and overflow into the world.
For we are not alone. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is with us, and in us, and abides with us; and the powers of violence, destruction, and death shall have no dominion. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We are the body of Christ! His Spirit is with us! Thanks be to God. Ω
A reflection on John 14:15-21 by Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 21 May 2017 (A37). Image shows ‘Each Other’ courtesy Michael Leunig.