When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. –John 15:26
During these pandemic days of isolation, I often remind our congregation that we are united in the bond of the Spirit, as in the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God that dwells within each of us. This isn’t a cosmic abstraction reserved for the meditatively minded; it’s a truth given to all of us by the risen Christ that “intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26) when we can’t summon the motivation to even pray. When we hit low points in these months that threaten us with sadness and even depression, the Spirit intercedes to say, “I’ve got you…all of you.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus calls the Spirit the Advocate. Other translations call it the Paraclete, derived from the Greek word παράκλητος (paraklētos), meaning “to walk alongside,” or, in the context of a legal defender, “to plead one’s case.” The Common English Bible translates it as the Companion, stressing the intimate comfort the Spirit provides. It gives me steadfast hope beyond momentary assurance knowing 1) that there are so many different translations of one word for the Holy Spirit, each of which try to capture the essence of its meaning for us, and 2) that the English language—or any language for that matter—cannot adequately convey the breadth and the depth of this gift of freely accessible truth that Jesus extends to us from God.
I share this reflection hoping that it might provide renewed insight as to the nature of the Advocate dwelling within each of us, but also to point out that it’s not an individually bestowed blessing. When Jesus says, “I will send to you,” the “you” is not any one person. He didn’t point to Peter and say, “This gift is yours and yours alone.” He offered it as a means of advocacy and comfort for those who followed him and who follow him. As the Spirit rested on Christ, so, too, the gift of that Spirit rests upon the body of Christ we call the church. And as we say, especially during a pandemic that has kept us physically distanced for over ten months now, the church is not the building, it is the people…all of the people.
So, the next time you are feeling lonely; the next time the weight of your yearning for physically-gathered community makes you want to scream; the next time you walk out of the grocery store, get in your car and rip off your mask like you just finished a disappointing surgery on Grey’s Anatomy (thanks, Sophia Cadogan), breathe deeply and hold it in for a moment knowing that your lungs are filled with the breath of God, and then breath out, be still, and know that you are not alone, that you are never alone, and that the Spirit that advocates for me, consoles me and comforts me is the same Spirit that does the same for you at that very moment. And do this knowing that this Spirit, this Advocate, this Paraclete and Companion will keep us bound to one another by never letting either of us go.