Sixth Sunday of Easter
“Are you sitting down?”
This was the first thing my doctor said to me over the phone. This was December of 2015, and I had been experiencing a strange pain in my chest. After stopping by a walk-in clinic, the doctor initially thought that my symptoms were caused by acid reflux, but she ordered a CT scan just to be safe. The results of that scan showed something far worse than her initial assessment, however. What she saw instead were a number of masses on my lungs.
She would not end the call until I promised to go to the emergency room that night, and so I found myself in an ER bed just two hours later. A couple of friends graciously decided to stay overnight to keep me company, and what I initially thought would be a short trip instead saw me admitted to the oncology ward at 6:00am. After I was settled in my room, I saw my friends off and quickly fell asleep.
The first thing I saw when I woke up at noon was a nurse telling me that I had guests; the second thing I saw was my mother walking in with my aunt right behind her. As soon as she received the call the night before, my mom booked the very next flight out of Nashville to New York so that she could be there with me while I was figuring out what in the world was going on. My aunt decided to come with her so that she could support my mom and help out in any way she could.
I was in the hospital for five days as they tried to figure out what exactly was going on. Truth be told, I was kind of useless during all of this; between the compounded stress, the uncertainty, and the morphine, I was exhausted. Yet every single morning, I woke up to see my mother and my aunt beside my bed. My mother has enough of a medical background that she was able to ask many—many—questions of the hospital staff, demanding to know what was going on and when I would be discharged. At one point I jokingly apologized to the nurse for all of her questions, to which the nurse replied, “She’s a mom. She’s doing exactly what she should be doing.”
Looking back on this four years later, I’m thankful that what I was diagnosed with wasn’t too serious. I’m even more thankful that the disease simply went away on its own with no further pain and with no treatment needed.
But what I am most thankful for in this experience are those who were there with me during all of it. I’m grateful for those two friends who stayed with me that long night in the ER. I’m grateful for my aunt, who dropped everything that she was doing so that she could fly to New York to be there for my mom and for me, helping out in whatever way that she could. And I’m so, so grateful for my mother being there; advocating for me when I was too exhausted to ask the right questions and too doped up at times to know what was going on.
There are moments in life when we are forced to reckon with the fact that we cannot get through this all on our own. Whether that moment is when we are facing a medical emergency, when we’re dealing with some kind of tragedy, or when we’re in the middle of some kind of personal issue that seems insurmountable, there are some things that require someone to walk beside us; to comfort us; to advocate for us when we cannot do it ourselves; to love us at our most vulnerable.
In our reading from John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus is in the middle of what is known as his “Farewell Discourse,” his last words to his disciples before he will be arrested and crucified. He knew that he would not be with them for too much longer and that the road immediately ahead of them would be beyond what they could manage on their own, so he offers last-minute instruction while he still has the chance. And so he promises them that, though he is leaving them, they are not being orphaned or left on their own. No, he is promising the Holy Spirit: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
This is the one who will comfort them when they are in grief or anguish; this is the one who will guide them when the way is unclear; this is the one who will remind them of what Jesus had taught; this is the one who will teach them when they do not know how to respond; this is the one who will abide with them without ever leaving their side. This is the one who carries on Jesus’ legacy of peace and of love when Jesus is no longer physically with them.
In two weeks, we will celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and I cannot think of a better time for us as a church and as a people to be reminded that we are not alone.
In the midst of all that is happening in our world, we are not alone. As we social distance ourselves from family and friends, we are not alone. As we grieve with those who have lost loved ones in a pandemic, we are comforted by the Spirit who does not leave us. As we are unsure of what the next year holds for our church, the Spirit is guiding us along the way.
And yet with this promise is a calling: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” These commandments are those that were instructed just a few moments before, passages that we read on Maundy Thursday:
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me…Where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commitment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus was the first Advocate, and we see this played out in the way that he loved those around him. As Mary and Martha wept at the gravesite of their brother Lazarus, so too did Jesus weep with them. As the woman who was “caught in adultery” was about to be stoned, Jesus stood in the gap between her and the religious leaders. The lepers, the strangers, the marginalized—for all of these, Jesus was an advocate, loving them unconditionally and standing in solidarity with them. He fed the hungry; he healed the sick. He proclaimed good news to the poor, the release of captives and the liberation of the oppressed.
What we find is that Jesus’ love was inextricably tied to his advocacy for others, standing in solidarity with the marginalized and giving himself for all. Jesus calls the disciples to this same way of love, knowing full well that they would need help to do so. And so the Spirit is coming to them—abiding with them and in them, the text tells us.
And so it is with us.
The Spirit is sent to us as another Advocate, never leaving us and ensuring that we are never alone. It comforts us, it teaches us, and it guides us. And as the Spirit abides with and within us, it is also embodied through us as we are sent out to love others in the same way that Christ first loved us: constantly advocating and loving those who are most at risk in our world.
At times, this looks like a mother advocating for her son in a hospital room. At other times, it looks like grieving with those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Sometimes this love looks like supporting our essential workers in whatever way we know how, be it delivering baked goods or cheering out our window at 7:00 each evening.
It looks like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless. It looks like working to dismantle those systems that lifts some up while oppressing the many. It looks like listening to those who are far too often told to shut up. For those of us who are white, love looks like showing up in solidarity with our black siblings as they resist to even more of their brothers and sisters shot down in the streets and in their apartments. It looks like welcoming the stranger and the foreigner.
And let me be clear: this is hard work. At times we will be the ones loving and other times we will be the ones being loved. At times we will be the ones advocating, and at other times we will be the ones being advocated for.
We will fail. We will get it wrong. But still the Spirit is with us. Even now God is with us. Advocating for us. Comforting us. Guiding us. Loving us.