A homily for Easter 6, Year A prepared for the Red Door Healing Service, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
I was talking with a friend this week, describing the kind of support that I wanted and needed in some areas of my life. It was one of those conversations where I started squirming part-way through; I worried that I seemed needy, perhaps even whining a bit too much about what I wish I had, when I already have so much. But my friend didn’t hear it that way. What she said…or at least, what I heard in her words was this: sometimes it does have to be about me. Sometimes I am the one who is vulnerable, who doesn’t have everything that she needs. Sometimes I am the one who needs an advocate. In other words, my need wasn’t a privilege I got to brush off and pretend that everything was under control. It was a need on which my own life and well-being depends.
That was hard for me to hear. At the same time, it was a gift. You see, it’s a whole lot easier for me to take care of other people, to focus on the challenges I see in the world around me than it is to stand in a vulnerable and authentic state where I realize: I can’t fix all that is broken; I can’t do this on my own.
But I can’t. And you can’t. This world, this life, this human existence does not exist in a perfect state where we can mend the brokenness, fix the pain, and make all the systems work together. Sometimes, we need an advocate. No…it’s more than that, even. All of us; all of the time: we need an advocate.
Now, I think the word “advocate” is interesting. I’m preparing to take a class in New Testament Greek this summer, when I go away to seminary. So, I am fascinated by this word and the way it is used in the Gospel, and I am equally fascinated about how this word gets used in my everyday life and work outside the church, where I am a social worker and a teacher…both roles where I advocate for others, and talk a lot about what it means to be an advocate. In my own common usage, an “advocate” is someone who gets on the same side of the issue as someone else. An advocate is not impartial and never neutral. An advocate, instead, is linked to someone else through a depth of relationship…whether personal, professional, or both…where they will take on the cause of that person as their own. I know advocates for social justice, for human rights, for racial reconciliation, for fair wages and equal treatment. Sometimes the advocate has a lot more power than the one on whose behalf they are advocating; but always, the advocate uses any power not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the person whose issue and life they carry as their own.
In the New Testament Greek, the word is similar: Παράκλητον (Paraklēton ). In some versions of the Bible, that gets translated as “Helper” or “Comforter” and of course it can mean something like that, too…but in the Greek there is also this sense of one with something more than we have, coming to our aid and adding to our wholeness. In these days between Jesus’ resurrection (Easter) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) Jesus prepares those whom he loves to live strong and to put their faith not in their own strength but in the eternal presence of God…evident in so many ways…as steadfast and active in our lives..
In today’s Gospel lesson, this is how I hear the words of Jesus being spoken to us: If you have love large enough to include me, which I know that you do, you will take what I am saying into your heart, and you will know that I will advocate for you. I can’t always be here where you can see me, but I will bring into the presence of God my knowledge and experience of your love and your potential. And even when I cannot be here with you, God will send to you an Advocate that you don’t even need to see. You will see me in each other. You will be able to be still, and listen, and know that your Advocate is with you, and the one who you know is with you, and in you, and working through you so that this circle of love goes unbroken.
On days where you…and I…feel that we need an advocate, we are exactly right. We do. That isn’t because we have failed; that is because we are profoundly loved, and held up by a loving and relational God who is here with us, and for us. The stirring of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives is evidence of that love; the way in which we as Church move to enfold each other in a spirit of inclusive love and radical hospitality is evidence of that love; the way in which we…you and I…each one of us are touched by each other, and give of ourselves to each other through prayer, through relationship, through the sharing of what we have with what others may need. This is our participation in God’s realm which is so much larger than any of us, so much greater than we can ask or imagine.
We are not alone; we are never alone. We have our advocate. Be still, and know, that advocate is with us, and for us, and works through us even in this space and in those of us gathered today.