I remember when mum and dad went overseas to the United States with the Samoan nurses association in the early 1980s and, believe it or not, trusted us their children to live at home by ourselves; mind you we were pretty grown up by then - I was 19. Mum and dad stocked up the pantry and the fridge and freezer and left money for us and lots of instructions and rosters for cooking, etc. We were thrilled that we were being trusted to stay at home by ourselves; it was awesome. We had a youth get-together with Mangere PIC church during that time and when two of the families heard that we were on our own they were there like a shot with a whole lot of groceries to keep us going even though we assured them we were fine. No one asked them to come but they just appeared unannounced to help us, to advocate.
“When I am gone I will send a helper, an advocate, the Holy Spirit…”
It is easy to take instructions when you know your parents are going away on an overseas trip. There is excitement, anticipation, a little bit of “hmmm, I wonder what we could get up to while they’re away?” We know they are coming back so it is ok to receive the last minute lectures and commandments that we have to obey while they are gone.
Wouldn’t it be equally great if we could also sit and listen to those final instructions with the ones we love before they die? If you love me you will do as I say you will obey my commandments. I will ask the father and he will give you another helper who will stay with you forever….when I go you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.
I can imagine a parent saying this to a child and the child responding, “Where are you going, I don’t want you to go, I want to come, I don’t want another helper, I want you.”
“How can you say I will not be left all alone when you are going away, it doesn’t make sense?” And in some ways that is the response one would expect from a child, it would be difficult to have farewell discourse like this dialogue that Jesus had with his disciples.
Remember that ad on television where the father is dying in bed and he calls his oldest son to his side and he whispers, “look after your mother” then he breathes his last breath. The younger brother says “what did he say” and his older brother replies, “He said I can have his chain saw.” That is a farewell scene that many of us who had the chance to say goodbye are familiar with. Some of us have probably experienced that very scene and been given final instructions for life by a loved one. Even in our state of health it is hard to talk about “when I die, or when I’m gone” no one wants to even imagine the possibility “stop it, I don’t want to hear it, you’re not going anywhere” and we would rather not say anything than talk about the inevitable that will happen to all of us at some time in our life. I don’t care, I just don’t want to talk about it.
No, its ok I’m going and I’m going to send someone else along to help you and then before you know I will be back. Pretty hard to understand and comprehend especially if you have experienced death before and you know that that person you loved did not come back and they did not send anyone else to come and keep you company in the meantime.
But this is just what Jesus said to them when he was trying to explain to them what was going to happen soon to him and to them. It’s like that British comedy “Allo, Allo” when the French spy comes in and says “listen fery garefully I will say this vunce and vunce only…”
Something was going down and Jesus wanted his disciples prepared for when that time came. Listen up, I will say this once and once only…in a little while…” They couldn’t shoo Jesus away and tell him to stop talking nonsense and hold their hands up to their ears pretending to block out the words, they needed to stop and listen to these final instructions because it was obvious, something was going on.
In a nutshell “when the disciples love Christ and get on with the job, two important things will accompany them. John lists them in 14:16-17 and in 14:18-21. Jesus defines his own role in 14:16 as a ‘helper’ (parakletos). It is the word used for a support person, especially in court, and can also be translated ‘advocate’ or ‘counsel’ or ‘counselor’.(1)
When we go through hard times and difficulty, when we need to visit the doctors or go to court we don’t want to go alone, we like to be accompanied by someone we love or someone who will support us and just hold our hands through the ordeal. When we find it even more difficult to understand everything that is going on in our lives and things just need a little guidance and help then often a counselor is just the person to step in and help us untangle the confusion and chaos that seems to have crept into our once peaceful world.
That is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples about not being left alone. When I’m gone you wait and see you will not be alone. You will know that I am with you because you will feel supported when times are tough, you will not feel abandoned like an orphaned child because I will be with you in spirit. O le tapuaiga fa’aleagaga. We’ve all said it to each other from time to time, sorry I can’t be there but I’ll be praying for you or I will be with you in spirit. And the truth is you know it and you do feel their presence. “O ou ma ma na” you go with the blessings and the spirits of the people.
That is what it feels like to have the support of absent friends at weddings and funerals. Christ with us, Christ with you, Christ with me, at the heights of human delight and the depths of human despair I know you have experienced that presence. It might not be obvious at first and sometimes it is only in retrospect but somehow, somewhere we have made it. And how? By the grace of God. We have come thus far by the grace of God. And sometimes you just can’t explain it because it is a miracle, to do so would take the power and the mystery of God away. It just happened you can’t explain it. We have one or two walking miracles here with us this morning … Pule, we should rename you “Lazarus.” We praise God that you are here. We all have been brought thus far by the grace of God.
Jesus reminded his disciples back then and continues to remind us all today that “I will not leave you all alone. The helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you. My Peace is what I leave with you.
We have a favorite family song which we love to sing at special family gatherings “O lo’o ia I le mamalu o le Atua i lenei mea ua ou faalogoina lona mana agalelei, surely the presence of the Lord is in this place I can feel his mighty power and his grace…” and we sing that song not because it is a song but because it is true, we have experienced it and we know it. It is our theme song and our song of strength when the times are tough and our song of celebration and thanksgiving.
(1) Loader, W. (29 May 2011). First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary Easter 6. Retrieved from http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MtEaster6.htm
April 2011 to June 2012