Text: “I tell you the truth, it is for your good that I am going away. For if I do not go, the Holy Spirit will not come to you. I am sending him to you and he will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” John 16:7,15
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
May. 20, 2018
Life is full of transitions. Have you ever noticed this? For some reason I have become acutely aware of this in recent days. It has come to me in a particular form: “a realization, this is my last Farmers' market at St. Paul’s;” or “this is the last Sunday I will celebrate the Eucharist at 8 a.m.” It hit me particularly hard the last few weeks as our friends from the north bid me good-bye and said, “I’ll see you next season,” and then caught themselves as the realization came that by then I will be gone. I guess because it was at the forefront of my mind that I thought a lot about the significance of transitions, both in general, and in particular with regard to Pentecost, the Feast we celebrate today.
Changes come whether we choose them or not. Children are born, relationships end, jobs come and go, roofs leak, people die. No permission is sought; transitions simply happen. The healthy person accepts this and deals with it so that life ultimately can go forward in a positive way. In contrast, unhealthy people fight, put off or even deny that transitions have to take place. As a result, they allow themselves to become the victim of these circumstances.
The reason such folk fight change is that transitions bring us face to face with the death of something. In our desire to give death its due and the compulsion to continue as we have in the past, we forget the possibility of resurrection.
Each of us lives with the reality of death. As Christians we begin with it in our baptism as we are buried with Christ and then raised to new life. We shudder as we put our child on the school bus for the first time. Something dies within us when our children leave home for college or to take their first job. We feel that same pang of death when we reach the age of 30, or 40 or 65.
Each time we bid farewell to a past that will inform our future. We must take off in order to put on. We must let go in order to grow.
Pentecost, and the Easter Season that preceded it, were times of transition for our Lord’s disciples. They had experienced the trauma of our Lord’s death. That was now behind them. The joy of his resurrection was sinking in. But at the back of their minds there had to be the realization that this season could not go on indefinitely. What would happen next. They would wait and wonder. In last week’s gospel, they got a partial answer to this question. They were to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Today’s gospel tells us why it was necessary for him to leave. It is taken from his farewell message to them at their last supper together on the night before he died. On that night he told them, “I must go away, and you cannot go where I am going. But it is good that I am going, for unless I go the Advocate will not come. And when he comes, he will lead you into all truth.”
This transition brought the disciples face to face with death. They had to let Jesus die so that he could live in another way. No longer could they be dependent on the fellowship they had known with him at the center during the three years that he had taught them. Now they would have to seize the life that he had promised them. It would be a life that would challenge their faith beyond anything they had ever dreamed.
His death enabled them to claim the resources for growth in a way that his life among them had prevented. They had listened to his words when he told them he must die. But their ears and eyes remained closed and they did not understand The Spirit, His Spirit, had not yet come.
They had seen and heard him. They had smelled and touched him, yet he remained distant. But now in his absence, a new and more intimate presence would become possible. His spirit would nurture and sustain them amid everything they would encounter.
The great mystery of divine revelation is that God entered intimacy with his people not only by Christ’s coming, but also by his leaving. They would now pray on their own for his prayers were now beyond their hearing. His death forced them into maturity.
During the Easter season, our Lord encountered two of his disciples on the dismal road to Emmaus. He had come to say good-bye. He met them as they stumbled through their shattered world of broken dreams. “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they told him.
Our Lord did not condemn them for their lack of faith. Nor did he give trite advice to try to cheer them up: “Look, guys, you know it is always the darkest just before the dawn.” Nor did he indulge their self-pity. “Come, tell me all about it.”
Rather he drew them back to what they knew. He brought to their remembrance all that he had told them before he died. The disciples’ hearts were strangely warmed in an hour of empty coldness. Then at table they recognized the Risen Lord.
There they said good-bye to one dream and began to embrace the possibility of a more profound reality. Aware of resources that, in anguish, they had forgotten, they start to claim the resurrection, first his, then theirs. They then began to face the task that would change the world. Today as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we know that task remains unfinished. It has been handed on to us. The Advocate, His spirit is here to empower us to continue to carry out his mission!