Jesus sounds a little confused in our Gospel reading. He says, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” Then he says, “If you love me, you should rejoice that I am leaving you.”
If I were a disciple listening to this good-bye speech, I would be very confused, pressing him by asking,
“What’s up Jesus? Are you coming or are you going? And if you plan to leave, why should I be happy about it? Haven’t we stuck with you? Haven’t we traveled all over the area, healing people, feeding them, teaching, forgiving them, and changing people’s lives for the better? Why are you going to leave now? We are just getting the kingdom rolling. And since I left my livelihood for you, why am I going to do a happy dance now that you have decided to split?”
If you knew Jesus personally, walked this earth beside him, ate with him, got to be part of his A-team, would you not want him to stick around? Would you not be happier if he stayed and kept this good news-movement going?
Or put another way, if you had the chance, would you not choose to have Jesus physically next to you helping you with a problem at work, making hard choices as a parent, during a health crisis, helping you through grief, or accompanying you into old age? Then we could really trust we are not alone. It is hard as Christians not to feel cheated out of the chance to have walked this earth when Jesus did. Thirty-three years is a pretty narrow window—not that many people got the chance, and we are pretty far removed from those who did.
So why does Jesus ask the disciples to rejoice and be happy that he will be leaving soon to join the Creator? Jesus must know this causes heartbreak and fear in the disciples, in spite of the fact that he gives them peace and admonishes them not to be afraid.
Later in this same speech, Jesus tells them they will be better off if he leaves: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
“Rejoice, be happy, it’s to your advantage that I go away.” It’s so counter-intuitive, so against what the disciples and we, naturally believe, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that life would be better with Jesus gone—but that is what he says. “I am going away SO THAT the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will come and fill you, teach you, bless you, and help you remember everything I have taught you.”
Unless Jesus leaves his earthly flesh, his disciples cannot experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. While bound by the limits of a human body, Jesus is contained, as we are, to a single time and space. But when he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the Advocate, the Helper, the Spirit, could be present in all disciples, at all times and in all places, empowering all followers of Jesus with his love, with his presence and with his comfort.
Jesus said, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." “WE will come to make our home with them.” The Advocate, the Holy Spirit enables us to have communion with the Father and the Son—the Creator and the Christ—who comes to make a home in the disciples—in YOU—in me—in all believers who love the Lord and seek to keep his Word. The whole Trinitarian God is making our own hearts a dwelling place!
That is pretty awesome! It turns out Jesus is not confused at all. He is going and he is coming. He leaves through the door of death and comes back through the gateway of resurrection. He leaves as he ascends to the Creator and he comes back through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside the disciples of all times and all places SO THAT he can multiply the kingdom with much greater love, through a greater number of people, in a greater number of places, through greater means!
The disciples were much better off with Jesus’ Spirit living inside them than they were with Jesus’ body walking beside them. When Jesus was with them, they could heal some people and bring peace, but they did not really understand nor grasp the power of God that was among them. It was hard for them to believe that THEY were able to do in Jesus’ name what Jesus himself could do. With Jesus there, they stayed on the side-lines and said, “don’t look at me, he’s the man.”
But once the Holy Spirit, the Advocate came, the kingdom broke loose in the world. In Acts, we hear what becomes possible when Jesus physically leaves SO THAT he and the Father can commune with the Spirit and take up residence inside each, and every one of the believers!
Nine times Acts refers to the “many signs and wonders,” “miracles,” and “healings” that were done at the hands of the apostles like Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas and others. The disciples, who had trouble casting out demons when Jesus was beside them, were casting out demons, making the crippled walk, and raising people from the dead when Jesus was inside them. People heard them preach, and they were converted, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, joined the community of believers, and held all their possessions in common—that’s a miracle in itself! Jesus had to leave, SO THAT he could come back in Spirit-form and give them some real-Jesus-power to get the kingdom of God really moving. With the Holy Spirit inside, Jesus is looking at them and saying, “now, you the man!”
It makes me wonder if Jesus would go so far as to say that we are better off today never having met him in his earthly form. We have never lived in the shadow of Jesus beside us—so we are free to embrace the fullness of the Spirit inside us. There’s nothing to hold us back from believing that the Creator of the Universe and Jesus Christ himself having come to make their home within us, so that we might know that we are never alone. The Spirit of Jesus is with you, to help you with a problem at work, when you make hard choices as a parent, during a health crisis, when you suffer through death and grief, and the Spirit does accompany you into old age.
And even more than that, the Holy Spirit abides in us with the Creator and the Christ, so that through God's endless power and love, we can bring such love to others who hurting. Jesus works through us to bring healing to those who need new life and hope, community and purpose. With the Spirit, Jesus dwells inside each one of us and he’s looking at us saying, “you the man” “you the woman” “you the teen” “you the kid” “you are the church where Spirits come alive!” (we do have a pretty awesome tag-line because we are church Where Spirits Come Alive!)
Embrace the fullness of who you are as the very dwelling place of God’s Creative, Redeeming, Holy Spirit and fulfill your part in the good-news-movement of God’s unfathomable love, freedom and healing for all. Miracles still happen today. God calls us to be vehicles of the miracle of love, acceptance and grace for all people.
Maybe like Lydia, your gift is to provide hospitality and support. Maybe your gift is to pray. Maybe your gift is music or teaching or working with children or youth. Maybe it is art, or landscaping, or financial management, or playing with grandchildren. Maybe it is retail or computer programming or cooking—whatever your gifts and talents, the Holy Spirit works through you, where you are, to be a vehicle of help or healing or hope to those around you.
Jesus says, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) So, “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27b) Jesus is in you, loving you, and loving others through you, now and always. That’s a miracle!