Summary: Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned. God is with us through all things.
May 17, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
With Us through All Things
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
One of my favorite Netflix series has been “Anne with an E.” The series follows the popular Anne of Green Gables novels written by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The Green Gables story is set in the late 1800’s on Prince Edward Island, Canada in the fictional town of Avonlea.
Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are an aging brother and sister who both remained single. Together they have managed the family farm, Green Gables. They decide to adopt a boy so that Matthew will have some help on the farm. However, the orphanage doesn’t send them the boy they requested; they send Anne instead. Anne is a wildly creative and imaginative 11-year-old girl. She has already been sent to numerous families. But Anne was more than they could handle. The families have all sent her back to the orphanage.
Now she has arrived in Avonlea. Marilla immediately wants to send her back. But Anne has wormed her way into Matthew’s tender heart. Matthew and Marilla decide to try her out on a probationary period. And the story takes off from there.
Anne struggles with abandonment. It’s a running theme throughout the series. She was discarded by her birth parents; she was scorned by other children at the orphanage; she was rejected by adoptive families. It seems like she is alone in the world.
In our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
An orphan is adrift with no community to call their own. It’s a lonely and vulnerable place. There are many ways that we can feel orphaned. We’re never too old to become orphaned. Grown adults can feel orphaned when both of their parents have died. We can feel orphaned when we’ve moved to a distant location, far away from family. Immigrants who leave home and country behind them can feel like orphans in a strange land. We can feel orphaned and alien if we sense that we don’t fit within a social setting. So there are many orphans beyond the strict definition of an orphan.
Jesus made his reassuring statement on the night of his arrest. He knew that his life was going to take a dramatic turn, and soon. This would change the intimate relationship he’d shared with his disciples. It would forever be altered. He spoke these words to assure them in his pending absence. Even though he would no longer be with them, God was not abandoning them. God would become present with them in a new way.
It seems a little out of sync to be reflecting on this passage from Holy Week when we’re well into our season of Easter. But the reason this text shows up today is because Thursday of this week will be Ascension Day. After Jesus rose from his tomb, he appeared to his disciples for 40 days. On that final day, Jesus was with his disciples in rural area east of Jerusalem. He gave them a blessing. And then, before their eyes, he was carried upwards and out of their sight.
So it makes sense to hear this passage today, on this final Sunday before Ascension Day. Jesus will never again be with his disciples, with the Christian community, in a bodily way. The daily reality of the disciples will radically change. Formerly, Jesus had walked with them every day. But now they will be without the joy of his presence.
So Jesus assures them, “I will NOT leave you orphaned!” His departure will bring on the coming of another heavenly presence. Jesus calls it “The Advocate.”
In the Greek text, that word is Paraclete. No, that’s Paraclete, not parakeet! Sometimes the Holy Spirit is depicted as a bird. But that bird is a dove, not a parakeet!
The Greek word is literally translated “Called beside.” The Holy Spirit is called to dwell with us, beside us, in us. Various Bible versions will translate the word as Counselor, or Advocate, or Comforter.
Jesus promises that after he departs, another heavenly presence will walk beside them. This Advocate is with us through all of the windings and avenues of our lives. Another way to think of this is Accompaniment.
When we accompany someone, we walk with them. We step into their situation, we feel their struggles, we encounter the world through their perspective. In accompaniment, we share their joys and sorrows and everything in between. We don’t walk with them only on sunny days and pleasant pathways. We’re with them also through their difficulties and painful realities.
This is what the Holy Spirit does with us. God’s Holy Spirit is ever present with us. It’s not in a way that can be physically seen. But maybe that makes it even closer. God’s Holy Spirit walks with us, before us, and behind us. The Spirit is within us, beneath us, and above us. This Advocate is to our left and to our right. The Holy comforter is with us when we sit down and when we arise, when we lie down in sleep and when we awaken to a new day.