You know, change is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to what was and embrace what is coming or sometimes even what is now. It’s hard to accept that things are just different from before and that this is how they just are. It’s hard to believe that change, especially uncomfortable change, could be good.
But of course that would be the case. I mean, change often means discomfort or disorientation or perhaps even disappointment. Change often is unwanted, unwarranted, or unwelcome. Change often means we have lost control, lost control of our surroundings and desired outcomes. Essentially, change always means change, and you know what they say about us Lutherans and change.
So we hold onto the past and try to relive it, forsaking all forms and types of change, no matter how innovative. We say no to progress and try to make whatever it is we thought once was great, great again. We reject ideas that are too far out of our comfort zones and tout “well, we’ve never done it that way before”. We lament the way the church is now with its differing theologies and declining attendance across the board in favour for Sunday morning sports and other activities or just sleeping in. We don’t even bother with Star Trek reboots or movies where Superman could be evil instead of good but it’s just too different. We don’t like change. And maybe we don’t like change because change scares us.
Because we don’t like to feel all those things that change makes us feel. We don’t like things to be different from what we’re used to. We often think that what we remember from before is better than anything that could ever be even if deviated just a little.
Jesus knows our feelings around change and he knew he was about to drop a doozy of change on his disciples too. The story we get today takes place in the chronology very shortly before his betrayal and death, so he knows that he’ll be leaving them before too long. To soften the blow, he gives them what we call the Farewell Discourse, which is essentially a discourse between him and his disciples to bid them farewell. So basically it’s very aptly named. The thing is, Jesus knew that change, uncomfortable change, was coming. He knew that things aren’t going to stay the same forever. He knew that his disciples, his followers, his friends were going to face that discomfort and disorientation that comes with change and especially with the change of Jesus’ own death.
Because death is the ultimate change, isn’t it? When a loved one dies, there’s no coming back from that. Death is one of the few changes out there that you can’t just undo no matter how hard you try or how many times you travel back in time in quantum leaps to reverse it, the dead stay dead.
So Jesus prepares his disciples for this change, for his departure, for this death that is going to just rock their world. What will they do when their mentor leaves them? How can they handle all the work in front of them without his guidance and calming assurance? Can they even survive without his resourcefulness and turning rocks into bread abilities?
For reassurance, Jesus tells them that his leaving them is a good thing. Cha right, Jesus, like change of this magnitude could ever be good. But Jesus continues and tells them that their love for each other won’t change because he’ll always be with them, just not in the way that they are expecting or hoping for. Well, ok Jesus, I guess that doesn’t sound too bad… maybe that can make swallowing this change a bit easier, but just by a bit.
Because really, if it were up to them, Jesus would be there with them in the flesh forever. It is always better to have the tangible, interact-able, at very least audible person there with us so we won’t feel so lonely and miss them so much. And if we’re being honest here, we’d probably prefer that, too. I mean, can you imagine? If we could have communion served to us by Jesus himself? Or an exposition on the gospel texts by him? Or even just a helping hand like maybe he can usher or greet or something on a Sunday? That would be amazing.
But Jesus knows this won’t be the case so he promises us the next best thing. He says yes he won’t be with us in the flesh, but he’s sending to us someone in his stead. This someone is none other than the Holy Spirit! Now, doesn’t that just make you all excited for what is come and embrace the change?
No, of course not. If we’re still being honest we all know that the Holy Spirit comes in at a very distant third when we’re talking about the persons of the Trinity. We know there is there is the Father and the Son and the Spirit, but most of the time we only really think about the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is like the Vice President that we don’t really hear of or know anything about. The actual President is the one that gets all the press and respect. The Holy Spirit is like having a glass of water at the bar. I mean, it’ll do but really, c’mon now. The Holy Spirit is like Luigi when compared to Mario. If you had to say, “who?” then you just proved my point.
And this second-rate Advocate is supposed to replace Jesus for us? Yeah thanks but no thanks. We don’t want that kind of change if at all possible. It’ll just be too disorienting, too uncomfortable, too different.
But is it? Well, yeah it is different of course because Jesus isn’t walking around with us handing us bulletins or collecting offering or anything like that, but doesn’t the Spirit embody everything that Jesus taught? Everything that Jesus did? Everything that Jesus is as the very Word of God? The Spirit is the very essence of Jesus, empowering us to do all that Jesus asks us to do.
So really, Jesus doesn’t leave us. Well, yeah he did because again he’s not pouring us coffee or serving us goodies, but he didn’t because all that he is, embodied by the Spirit, is here with us. In us. Living among and through us, in our communities, in our service to each other. Because of the Spirit so graciously given to us, we be who we are and do what we do as the community of the Spirit, as children of God, as the one body of Christ. So then maybe it is Jesus through the Spirit that is serving us coffee and handing us bulletins, but also providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, standing up for justice and equality, pretty much displaying for us and others the love of God that lasts throughout time and space and probably even dimensions of the multiverse.
See the Spirit isn’t the second rate stooge we often think or default to. Yes, having just the Spirit but not Jesus is different, but it isn’t exactly change. It isn’t Jesus in the flesh, but it is Jesus, his teaching, his sayings, his example of love and life living in us, through us, and often in spite of us, reminding us of who we are, whose we are, and what we are doing here. By the Spirit, we can navigate this change, we can weather the discomfort, we can handle the disorientation. Because even in the midst of the change all over the world, we can always rely on God’s promises of unchanging love. While we sometimes lose control over the situations that we want to maintain control over, God continues to provide for us, put us back together, and grant to us peace. While death can seem so final in that no one comes back from that, we know that someone doesn’t have to be physically with us to continue to reside with us. For even in death, there can be resurrection. Even in discomfort, there can be the peace that surpasses all understanding. Even in change, there can be the love of God shining on us, being gracious to us, and holding us with strength, community, and Spirit.
For that promised Spirit, that Advocate, that divine helper in all our times of need, brings us together for continued strength and support, calls us to live the life that truly is life, unites us together as the one body of Christ acting as God’s hands and feet in the world. This Spirit, this embodiment of all that Jesus is, was, and continues to be, lives in us, among us, and alongside us guiding us down the paths of peace, comfort, and at times, change.
This season of Easter, may we trust this Spirit graciously given to us, that we might find that peace in the midst of change knowing that God continues to live and love and guide through the words of Jesus for us, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.