Since we’ve been married, my wife and I have signed up to run several 5Ks and half marathons together. In our most recent race, she had trained extensively. I, on the other hand, had been in a particularly busy season of ministry and had not taken the time to do longer training runs, the kind that really build endurance. What was I thinking? Race day arrived. We did fine for the first few miles but then the disparity became evident. She was cruising along way out in front of me while I was struggling. My knee began to bother me about halfway through and with several miles left, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I seriously considered quitting. The only thing that kept me going was when my wife slowed down a bit and began running alongside me, encouraging me with each step. She even challenged me at times, urging me to keep going and not to drop out. We finally crossed the finish line…together!
In our Gospel passage this week, Jesus has been sharing comforting words with his disciples regarding his impending departure (John 14:1-4). Though they don’t yet have a full picture of what is to come, the disciples bristle at the thought of Jesus leaving them. But Jesus assures his friends that his departure is not the same as his absence. Strangely, though Jesus is going to go away, he also affirms that he will be with them (v. 18). How can this be?
The key is the Spirit. In this already/not-yet, post-resurrection, post-ascension world in which the disciples will soon find themselves (and the one you and I live in now), Jesus assures them that they will be not left alone. The Father would send the Advocate (paraklétos), the Holy Spirit, the “spirit of truth,” to be with them. The term affirms that the Spirit is helper, counselor, comforter, advocate, guide – all of the things Jesus has been for them. The Spirit would be sent by the Father at the Son’s request. (v. 16) The unified ministry of Trinity is in full view.
Early Church leaders sometimes spoke of perichoresis to describe the mysterious, mutual relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The term literally meant to move or to dance around. The image that emerges is God as a loving, intimate unbroken community of being in which each Person, while maintaining distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them. Three in One. One in Three. A divine dance of love and mutuality.
It is because of this community that Jesus could say to Phillip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (v. 9) It’s why he could say to his disciples that they won’t see him but at the same time, because of the coming of the Spirit, they will see him (v. 19). The Spirit is one who, “abides with”us and he will be “in” us. (v. 17)
Jesus is making a promise to us. It’s one worth hearing and taking to heart, especially during these challenging days where fear and anxiety constantly knock at the door. The truth proclaimed at Christmas continues in Easter and is anticipated in Pentecost. God is, and always will be, with us. We will not be left as orphans. God doesn’t start something God doesn’t intend to complete. What a beautiful promise. Just as my wife ran alongside me, encouraging me not to quit the race, the Spirit is the One who comes alongside us as we run the race, cheering us and challenging us as counselor, comforter, teacher and guide.
To the many of us who have been sheltering in place for weeks, unable to gather physically with the Body of Christ for worship and fellowship, we’re reminded that departure doesn’t mean absence. By the Spirit, we know that God is indeed with us. We are never alone. Let not our hearts be troubled. (v. 1)
But the Spirit comes not only to be with to encourage and comfort. He will also be “in” us. Jesus paints a picture here of how his Church is to live in the world right now. It is not as a fearful, powerless organization who has lost its leader. Rather, it is a life-giving community that is filled with the animating Spirit and power of the risen Christ. It is a community that continues to minister in the world in ways that Jesus did. (v.12)
The promise of the Spirit means that the Triune God has invited us to enter into the dance of love. And if we are open, we can become recipients of the very life of God in such a way that when the world sees the Church, it catches a glimpse of the goodness of God. How beautiful a witness that would be!
I have seen this happen as churches mobilize during this pandemic to serve the least of these, pivot their worship services and small groups to online venues, and love and care for their communities in creative ways. The promised Spirit by the risen Jesus is at work. God is present with us. Don’t stop. Keep running the race, Church. Get out there and dance!