As you know, I am a lover of talking about popular-ish media, so it is inevitable that the topic would eventually come up. A couple months ago the world of popular-ish media was set ablaze by a Netflix original series called “13 Reasons Why”. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of it, I’m sure you have your reasons why (see what I did there?). And as a lover of talking about popular-ish media, I also love to share popular-ish media so here is the trailer for the highly popular-ish show:
If you didn’t catch it, the premise of the show basically follows this high school student named Clay, who is classmates with a young lady named Hannah Baker, who committed suicide like a week before the series timeline began. The school of course was heartbroken, but obviously the story doesn’t end there. In a very strange teen drama sort of way, some of the students at the school received a package that contained… wait for it… 7 cassette tapes. This isn’t a joke, cassette tapes. Yes, this is a modern day school full of digital media and players, but somehow the students actually were able to find access to an analogue device that could play cassette tapes. Anyway, the cassettes had recordings made by Hannah, explaining the 13 reasons why she took her own life. And this isn’t a spoiler, as this is explained in the trailer, but each of the 13 reasons was a person, so she dedicates one whole side of each the tapes to each of them.
Well, I guess the reasons were more what the person did or didn’t do, not the person themselves, as there were really only 12 people listed (ok, maybe that one was a spoiler). What they did or didn’t do contributed to Hannah’s overall sense of self-worth and after these 13 events in her life over the span of a couple years of high school building up upon each other at the end of it all she decided that her life just wasn’t worth living anymore.
It actually took me a while to get through all 13 hour-long episodes (it took me roughly 13 hours, maybe you can do it faster), and there were some parts that were more difficult to watch than others. I found this series to be pretty powerful in how it touches on, might I add very graphically so at time, a lot of real-life issues, not just suicide but bullying, rape, substance abuse, social isolation, depression, and one that hits me right in the feels, parental inability to understand and connect with their kids. It reminded me of some experiences that I had in high school and beyond, and I could imagine what Hannah Baker went through in her life that led to her suicide. I could imagine the pain, the humiliation, the anger, and the sheer loneliness that she felt, even when surrounded by her friends, her supportive parents, and her amazing talent and passions.
She still felt lonely. Lonely enough that she didn’t want to live anymore.
This, more than anything else in the show, made me sad. We are relational beings, created to relate, to interact, to love. Although fictional, the events of this series reminded me how much of an impact loneliness and isolation could have on relational beings such as us, especially one who is living in those very formative teenaged years.
And while many of the commentaries on the show talked about bullying and social hierarchies as the cause of much that is wrong in the world and what may drive someone to take their own life, I think it is more than that. I think that bullying and social hierarchies actually come out of and are created by loneliness. And much of who we identify ourselves as is informed by who we love and who loves us back, so we do what we can to be loved, so much so that we may even compromise our integrity to feel that love.
I don’t know if I would go so far as say that loneliness is at the root of all the evils in the world, but I would definitely say that it is related.
I think this is why Jesus’ disciples are feeling so distressed the more and more Jesus hints to them that he is going to leave them. This section of John, if you remember, is part of what is called the “farewell discourse,” where Jesus lays out his departure and offers his disciples some encouraging words. He talked about the gate for the sheep and the safety within the pen, the big big house of God to which we are welcomed, and how they will be able to live on without him. But that wasn’t exactly enough for the disciples, they needed more because Jesus leaving them after just such a short time was too much for them to handle. So Jesus promises them something else, an Advocate, a Spirit, a truth that while Jesus isn’t physically with them, he will be among them through his teaching, through his commands, through everything that he is and has done for them.
And I bet when the disciples heard this, they probably thought, “that isn’t comforting at all Jesus. We’d rather have you around than some sort of second-rate rebound. This doesn’t make us feel better.”
I would understand if this was what they were feeling, because while I never met Jesus in the flesh or had a relationship with him like the disciples would have, I know what it is like when you have that close of a relationship and things change. I know how distressing it is to have someone you care about and look up to suddenly announces that they’re leaving. I know how discomforting it is when your life, that could only be described as perfect, changes and isn’t all that perfect anymore. It creates a hole in your heart. It drives a wedge between you and all that you were before. It drowns us in this loneliness that leaves us grasping for air.
That is what happened with Hannah of “13 Reasons Why.” While the she listed out the specific 13 reasons that led to her demise, it all started with one major event, when her parents decided to move to a new city. I know, people move to new cities all the time, and they don’t always end up in the suicide of a family member. But I think there is something to be said about that loneliness that comes with a major move like that. While some may see a fresh start like that… well… refreshing, I think it would be tough on those who didn’t really want that change to begin with.
So what can we do in the face of this loneliness? What can we do when change comes in and alters our lives? What can we do when we just feel like we don’t have anyone to love or could love us back?
Well, there is Jesus’ promise for one. The Spirit, the Advocate, the paraclete, isn’t just this second-rate rebound that we might think, but rather it is the actual presence of Christ, living among us as we gather, as we relate to each other, as we learn to love and serve our neighbours. This is the Spirit of Christ, informing us on how to live in community, how to interact with others, how to express the welcome and inclusion of God. This is our Advocate who reminds us of Jesus’ example of righteousness and generosity, encourages us to act in grace and mercy, and strengthens us to be God’s hands and feet in the world. This is the paraclete, the helper sent to us by God, that surrounds us with the support of the church, reveals to us our part in the body of Christ, and brings us together in the unity of the Eucharist.
As I said about Hannah’s “13 Reasons Why” she took her own life, it was more what the people didn’t do than who they were. And as the series progressed, it seemed like the characters in the show started to realise that they could have been more charitable, more welcoming, or more loving, and things could have been different. Of course, I wouldn’t say that her suicide was completely their fault, she had some decision making to do as well, but I do think that this illustrates for us the lack of community, the ignoring of Christ’s Spirit in our midst, the sheer loneliness that could come when we perhaps don’t realise the calling of Jesus in our lives.
The thing is Jesus said that we won’t be orphaned. He promises us that we will see him, in ourselves and in each other. He reminds us that we will be eternally loved by God in heaven. I know, it doesn’t always seem like that is true, but that is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit, acting in all of us and leading us to fulfill these promises, shows us how Jesus is, as he said, among us gathered in his name.
This isn’t something like a physical image or reasonable facsimile of Jesus just plopping himself in a chair nearby and is like, “hey what’s up, guys?”, but rather we can see each other when we are serving and we remember Jesus’ generosity. We look at each other acting in love and we remember Jesus’ charity. We see each other living in community and we remember Jesus’ invitation to all, welcoming them into the Kingdom of God.
That is what Jesus means by the Spirit living among us, being with us through the difficult times, comforting us through the disheartening change, and loving us when we feel the most lonely. My friends, Jesus is here with us. Not in a way that is completely obvious and apparent, but in Spirit, in community, in hearts joined together by the love of God, graciously given to all of us and calling us by name.
This Spirit isn’t a second-rate rebound, but rather something that could meet our needs, cure our ailments, and love us in our loneliness. For this Spirit lives in all of us, in all communities of worship, in all people who are open to accepting the love and commandments of God.
In these last couple weeks of Easter, may we look out for the Spirit of Christ in our midst, as it works and acts in and through all of us, revealing to us and reminding us of the love of God and welcoming us into eternal community. Thanks be to God. Amen.