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May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter
In these last few months, I’ve limited the time I spend reading the daily news because it’s so easy to get sucked in and go down rabbit holes for hours at a time. But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun paying attention to a special section of the Seattle Times called “Lives Remembered.”
Its purpose is to put faces to the names of people who are dying of COVID-19 and remind us that they’re more than just a statistic. Last week, that section of the paper hit home for all of us here with an article about Sandy Pratt.
It focuses on his passion for sailing and reminds us that he was a lifelong learner. And even though the importance of Saint Andrew’s in his life wasn’t mentioned, you all remember it and what a big part of congregational life that he was here.
As I prepared for today, I thought about Sandy and the people who are directly affected by COVID-19, and the changes that it has meant for us here. And as I thought about those things, and read the gospel for today, I was comforted by the fact that Jesus promised to send us another advocate when he physically left this world.
Because it means that, more than 2000 years ago, Jesus knew we would continue to need someone to guide our hearts and our lives. And he made sure we would have that. He made this promise on the night that he was betrayed and handed over to the authorities.
Because he knew that the hours between his arrest and crucifixion would leave the disciples vulnerable, and cause them to panic and abandon him. But he loved them. And he also knew they’d have to keep going and continue his teachings and ministry after those events.
So as he comforted his friends, he promised them that, even though he wouldn’t physically be with them anymore, they wouldn’t be left alone. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever…and you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
Jesus promised the disciples that their relationship with him and with God would continue – but it would be different from what it had been. Parts of it would be familiar, but things wouldn’t be the same as they were when Jesus was with them. And they weren’t going to be left on their own.
The Advocate that Jesus promises to send is more than someone who offers support in a legal setting. And it’s even more than someone who shows up to provide consolation and comfort and then leaves again.
At its most basic meaning, the Advocate that Jesus sends – the Holy Spirit, comes alongside us and stays with us. She walks with us and abides in us, and works in us, and holds us in lasting relationship with God.
It’s the same way Jesus was with the disciples when he embodied the relationship of deep commitment and promise that God made to us at the beginning of the world. In their time together, Jesus was a constant presence for them, and in that the disciples learned not just a new way of living, but a new way of being.
And it was critical that they remembered this and held onto it, because the changes they’d begun to experience with knowing Jesus was going to leave would continue for months and even years. And remembering the way Jesus was when he was with them, so that they could be that for each other, is what would get them through.
As we reflect on that in terms of what we’re experiencing now, there’s no question that this pandemic has changed life as we know it. People we love have died. And we’re all feeling a bit vulnerable and even afraid of what may still happen, because we don’t know what will happen.
But what hasn’t changed is the way Jesus showed us how to be with each other. And I don’t mean being in close, physical proximity to other people. I mean the relationship he had with the disciples and the people he ministered to.
The presence of the Advocate, God’s Spirit, reminds us that even though so much has changed for us in the last three or so months, what hasn’t changed is that Jesus showed us how to take care of each other and how to love each other. That is at the core of who we are, and it’s what will get us through.
As a congregation, Saint Andrew’s has gone through its fair share of change in the last few years. But through all those changes, you were still able to come together here each week for committee meetings and meals and worship services.
And now here we are again living through another change, but the opportunity to gather in-person has been taken away for a time. And when we are able to gather again in-person, things won’t be the same as they were before. Some of the people we love won’t be here. Some of the ways we do things will change.
But those things and this physical building, while they’re important, they aren’t at the core of who we are. Jesus’ love is. The Advocate, God’s Spirit, is actively working with and through that love in us. That is what will get us through as we figure out a new normal.
There are very few people who enjoy change. On the night Jesus was betrayed, the disciples didn’t want him to go. They wanted to keep doing things the way they’d been doing them. Things were going well. And then it all changed. And to be blunt, it completely freaked them out.
It’s much the same when it comes to life in a faith community. We like the familiarity of doing things the way they’ve always been done. So, working through change starts with recognizing that we don’t like it and we’d rather not do it.
That it makes us feel vulnerable and even a little afraid. That what we want is to go back to normal and the way things used to be, but we can’t because so much has changed.
And so we slow down, take a breath, and remember that others are also feeling vulnerable and afraid. We recognize the fear below their anger, impatience, or frustration. We smile or give a word of encouragement instead of snarling back.
And we keep moving forward. And over time, we recognize that all of this is more than doing, it’s being. It’s how we live as people of faith.
Regardless of what’s going on around us, whatever may or may not happen, Jesus’ love is at the center of who we are. The Advocate, God’s Spirit, works in and through that love every day of our lives. That is what holds us together as a community, and that is what will get us through. Thanks be to God! Amen.