My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit be with you as we conclude this Easter Season today. Today is Pentecost, a term that can be literally translated as 50 days, describing the number of days that have elapsed since Easter. We borrow the term from our Jewish brothers and sisters, although our Pentecost feasts are very different. The Christian understanding of Pentecost, as we heard in the first reading today, is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the upper room. The Jewish understanding of Pentecost, or what they call Shavuot, although taking place 50 days after Passover, is actually a feast of the grain harvest. During the time of the Temple, the Jewish people would have offered some of the harvest back to God on Shavuot as a thanksgiving for the good things God gave them. Of course, we are just starting the planting season on Pentecost so we’re far from harvest time.
Several times during the Easter Season, we heard the same chapter of John’s Gospel, chapter 14, which is a brief explanation by Our Lord to explain all the events that happened between Good Friday and Pentecost. If I were to give it a theme, I would say Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples exactly what he means when he says, “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid.” He is trying to explain to them what will happen so that they will be prepared. The apostles have been Jesus’ followers and will now take on the yoke of leadership that Jesus had provided for them during his earthly life. In our calendar, we believe that 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, he ascended into heaven and that 10 days after that (50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection) the church was given the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. To prepare them to receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus used a very unusual word to describe her, a word that has caused me to ask the question: What did Jesus mean when he called the Holy Spirit the Advocate? This term is usually used describe a lawyer in a trial, someone who is meant to present the best case for us to a judge. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think about my relationship to God in legal terms. Yet, I think this is the context that Jesus is using today. And, while we may be tempted to believe we have outgrown this image of our relationship to God, let’s investigate what Jesus is saying when he uses it.
Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth in the verses right before our reading begins today. If we view the Holy Spirit as our Advocate before the Father, the first thing that we need to know is that it is the Spirit’s job to get to know our true selves in order to plead our cause. She wants to be in relationship to us throughout our life. St. Thomas Aquinas said regarding this that grace builds on nature. In other words, it’s not as though the Holy Spirit forces herself into the lives of those who don’t want to get to know her in order to force them to a life of holiness. The Spirit comes into our lives as we strive to grow in holiness and builds on and perfects the good work we are already doing. That is why Jesus said the Holy Spirit will, “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” She not only has placed into our heart a natural law sense of goodness but remains with us in order to tell the Father all that we have done to grow in holiness.
Yet, the Holy Spirit is not only our Advocate to the Father. She is also our Advocate to the world. The Spirit of Truth guides us in our daily interactions to be beacons of light and faith even if we aren’t necessarily speaking about God, faith, or the church. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts that we are, in turn, invited to put into the service of the church. In some ways, this is what connects this celebration to the Jewish understanding of Passover: we are all given gifts and are invited by God to build up the kingdom with those gifts. Part of our challenge is to listen intently to the Spirit to make sure that the gifts we think we have correspond to the gifts we truly do have and to make sure we aren’t so involved in so many things that we cannot effectively use the gifts God has given us. As we celebrate this feast of Passover, let us be reminded of our need to get to know the gifts God has given us and to make sure we are doing our best to use them to build up the church.