Come Along Side
Every so often in our reading of the Bible we encounter a word that is central to the understanding of a passage, but at the same time if we look beyond the word itself we usually discover that this particular word is one of those words that the translators found difficult, if not impossible to translate. Sometimes the word is just left in Greek, and you are on your own; at other times the translators will pick one English word from among multiple possible choices and go with that. The problem with this is that then how we understand that word is limited by the narrow definition of the chosen English word.
This is the situation we find ourselves in this morning with our Gospel text. Let’s look at verse 16: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. Another Advocate! Another? Well, Jesus is the first Advocate (see below for more about that), so the next Advocate will be sent after Jesus’ resurrection and this is usually interpreted to refer to the sending of the Holy Spirit. And then the word “Advocate.” What does that mean? One meaning of an “Advocate” is one who defends, or who speaks for someone else, as in a court of law. Sometimes defense lawyers are called “Advocates.” But another dimension of the meaning of this word is one who brings “help, consolation, comfort and encouragement.” And it is the latter sense of the word that is closest to the Greek word here - and the Greek word is PARACLETE.
Paraclete. Have you heard that word before? In the children’s sermon I will make a little joke about how much the word sounds like Parakeet, or some might think we are talking about a “pair of cleats.” But no, PARACLETE is a Greek word that is almost impossible to translate. When we hear the word we naturally think of the Holy Spirit, but the literal meaning of the word is this: One who comes along side another.
“Another Advocate!” Jesus was the first! That is what Incarnation is all about. Jesus is the one who comes along side of us by taking on our humanity in order to enter fully into the human experience. The gods of the nations, which Paul talks about in the Acts text could never do this. They were always remote and stayed as far away from especially the dark side of human life as possible – just like our own popular societal “gods” which deny loss and demand optimism and phony happiness. But this is not true with the God we worship. Through Jesus’ incarnation God enters fully into life – God enters fully into the losses we experience – God is not afraid of suffering, grief or anything that is a part of human life.
The Gospel text for this day from John 14 is a part of what is called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” The disciples have gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper. There is a terrifying feeling of loss and uncertainty that the disciples pick up on. Jesus keeps talking about crucifixion and the disciples are confused and frightened by the prospect of this horrible loss. In the face of this Jesus tells them: “Love one another” and “The Father will send another Advocate…” This “Advocate” will be the spirit of God and this advocate will come along side of you in order to stand with you. But not only that, this “Advocate – this Paraclete will empower you to stand with each other. For one uniquely powerful way that we experience the presence and support of God in the midst of our loss is through the presence and love and caring and prayers of others within the community. As we come along side of another who is in the midst of suffering loss at the same time God comes up along side as well.