‘Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I … But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you’. T.S. Elliot in ‘The Wasteland’
In tomorrow’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ promise to his friends of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. He makes it to them that last Thursday evening in the Upper Room as he readies them for his departure.
An ‘advocate’ is someone who looks out for you; someone who is on your side – who speaks up for you; someone who encourages you, supports you and comforts you. Someone who is absolutely there for you.
Jesus’ promise is a deeply personal one. Jesus is promising his friends, and us, that the Spirit of God will ‘abide’ (a favourite verb in John’s gospel) with them, and with us, through thick and thin –and forever.
The Spirit of God has, of course, been there since the very beginning. We hear in Genesis 1 of God’s Spirit hovering over the waters in creation. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God promised his people: ‘I am with you’. But often he would be present to them only indirectly, as for example, when appearing to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 28:15).
The extraordinary difference is that, here, God makes this deeply personal promise directly – in person! Here Jesus is effectively telling his friends that God hasn’t only revealed himself afresh in the human form standing and kneeling before them (as if this wasn’t enough!). But that soon he will do so in the fresh intimacy of the Holy Spirit; the one who will accompany them; be alongside them, be within them; and be with them – for all time.
Jesus is promising them, and us, that in all our struggles against loneliness or isolation or depression or pain; that in all our times of joy and laughter and celebration, God is with us directly and intimately and absolutely.
What a wonderful message of hope for the disciples that evening in the upper room. And what a wonderfully hopeful message it is for us today.