a sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter
When Jesus told his disciples that he would be leaving, he gave them one last instruction. And just in case they forgot, he sent them someone to walk along side them.
There’s a certain spirit that’s alive within this place today! Can you feel it? I sure can. As our senior warden would say, the Holy Spirit is literally dancing all over this place!
Of course, this is a special weekend because it’s Memorial Day weekend, a holiday weekend when we remember all who have given the ultimate sacrifice for us and for our country, the men and women of our armed forces. We honor and remember those who fought and died for our nation and our way of life. Some of us know those people by name. All of us have benefitted by their sacrifice.
We also remember those who have lost loved ones. Some have lost husbands or wives, some have lost fathers or mothers. Loss is something we don’t talk a lot about in our society, even though everyone experience it at one time or another. We don’t like to talk about loss because we’re never sure what to say. How do you comfort a mother who has lost her son, or a child who has just become an orphan?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. We are back at the Last Supper, after he has washed their feet. And he is giving them their final instructions on how he wants them to live after he is gone. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he tells them.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It sounds a little bit like a mother, doesn’t it? “If you love me, you’ll do what I ask you to do…”
And yet, like our mothers, Jesus only asks for what he knows is best for us. Because he knows that what’s best for us is to keep his commandments. And what are his commandments? Is he asking us to brush our teeth or eat all our vegetables? No. Jesus had only two commandments. Do you remember what they are?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the love your neighbor as yourself.
These are Jesus’ two commandments – loving God and loving people. And when you really boil it down, they are the same thing. Because we can’t love God without loving our neighbor. And we can’t do either one without one key ingredient: Love.
Just before Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, he begged us to show our love for him by loving the whole world. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will love each other.”
Now, like our moms, Jesus knows that we don’t always remember to do what we’re told. Sometimes, we forget. And so he does something else. He give us the Holy Spirit. We normally think of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In that version of the story, the Holy Spirit is full of drama and special effects, a rushing wind and tongues of fire. But today, Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit a different way. He talks about sending us “another Advocate,” or the “Spirit of truth,” or “the Comforter.” In the old days that friend was called by another name, the Paraclete. Paraclete means “one who is called to stand beside another.” More than anything else, Jesus is sending us someone who stands beside us.
Think about that for just a moment. Just before he made his ultimate sacrifice for the whole world, Jesus pleads with us to simply love. And because he knows that there will be times in our lives when we forget to love, he sends us the Paraclete, the one who stands beside us. Someone to carry us through thick and thin, through good times and bad, when we are orphaned or grieving or lonely or lost. The Holy Spirit comes and stands beside us to give us comfort and strength.
The Holy Spirit comes in the form of a friend who places his hand on our shoulder, or in a few words of encouragement from a teacher or coach. The Holy Spirit comes in the smile of a child that walks into a room, on in the selfless act of sacrifice by a soldier. The Holy Spirit comes when friends and family gather to celebrate a joyous wedding weekend, or when they also come to bury a loved one.
The Holy Spirit comes whenever we stand beside another, loving each other as Jesus commanded us to do.
Beloved, the self-sacrificial love that Jesus had for us is the same love that those who died for us this Memorial day had. And it is also the same love that we share with each other every time we stand beside another in pain, when WE, filled with the Holy Spirit, stand beside a friend or stranger, supporting them or carrying their load for a while.
“I will not leave you comfortless,” Jesus said, “because the Holy Spirit abides in you.”
Love one another, and keep his commandments.