“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The Christian life is challenging. For many reasons. It is not easy to follow Jesus in loving obedience. It is certainly not easy to trust in his promises being that we are 2,000+ years removed from his “earthly” life. Indeed, have you ever like me thought to yourself, “Things would be so much easier if we’d have been there when Jesus was around. Or, if he was here present with us like he was with his disciples. He would explain things to us, and tell us what to do. We could know for sure! And he’d be such an encouragement, we’d want to press on and continue to do better each day.”
This is common I think, but it is wrong. And it’s wrong in two ways. First of all, the evidence that we have in the gospels suggests that this might not be so straightforward. Some of Jesus’ earliest disciples, his closest friends, betrayed and denied him. Both Matthew (26:56) and Mark (14:50-52) tell us that at the time of Jesus’ arrest all of the disciples deserted him and fled. The truth is that many people, even his closest friends, couldn’t quite make Jesus out. He was compelling, to be sure, but who he was and what he was up to exactly were not always obvious. Even when Jesus was standing there in the flesh it took faith to perceive him.
Secondly, in this passage before us and for the next two chapters in John Jesus in fact does promise to be with his followers from that day to this one and beyond. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me,” (14:18-19).
The Christian life is about seeing Jesus, beholding him, and beholding growing in loving obedience. However, today, no less than in first century Palestine, it takes faith to perceive Jesus Christ.
In John’s account of the gospel there are seven “I am” sayings, some of which we have examined over the last few weeks and months: “I am the Bread of Life,” “the Light of the World,” the Gate,” “the Good Shepherd,” “the Resurrection and the Life,” “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” “the True Vine.” We could add to this list the numerous times that Jesus presents himself as the spring of water.
All of these images are variations on a single theme: that Jesus has come so that human beings may have life, and have it in abundance (10:10). “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live,” (14:19).
Life, fullness of life—happiness. In the end, is this not the one thing that human creatures need and long for? And we try to achieve this and grab hold of it in all sorts of ways. Think of all of the ways that we try to secure our lives and make them meaningful: ambition, family, money, power, sex, virtue, self-realization, and on and on. It is so difficult to push beyond these superficial wishes and longings but we must if we are to learn to recognize what it is that we truly want and need. That one thing in which everything else is included—God.
Jesus is about to depart from his disciples in order that he might go to the Father. We heard this in the gospel reading last Sunday when Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them (14:2ff). In the interim, however, he will not abandon them. In fact, he makes a promise: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,” (14:16).
Have you ever had a loved one depart? A parent or spouse? A good and loyal friend? Then you know the pain of their absence, even if it is only temporary. Jesus is saying that his departure will not be like that.
His departure will not be an absence from those who love him. In fact, he will be present with them in a new way, truer even than when he was with them “in the flesh.”
How will Jesus be with them in a new way after his departure? By the Holy Spirit who is the Advocate, who abides with and in those he loves. The Holy Spirit is our helper, our comforter, our advocate, a good and true friend. Yes, Jesus is going to prepare a place for those who love him but in the meantime the Holy Spirit will make his home right there with the disciples.
When you are most down and out, when you are feeling the weakest in your faith, when you screw up and fail, when you find yourself unable to do the things God wants you to do, when you can hardly pray and you aren’t sure what you really believe, remember. Remember that Jesus Christ promises the Holy Spirit. And the promise is that he will abide with you and in you (14:17), forever (14:16). He is there daily to help you. Do not be slow to call on him for help.
Earlier I mentioned that John presents Jesus as the one who has come so that human beings may have life, and have it in abundance. Indeed, his only gift is life and he is able to give it because the very life of God is present in him in a unique way in inexhaustible fullness. Jesus gives us life because he gives us God and he can give us God because he himself is the Son.
A little earlier in John’s gospel Jesus said, “Whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me,” (13:20). When Jesus promises the disciples—when he promises you—the Holy Spirit he is promising them nothing less than a share in the very life and love of the Triune God.
Not God out there far away from us. Not God removed and distant. But the promise of God with us because Jesus promises to be with us by the Holy Spirit: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you,” (14:20). “And those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them,” (14:21).
Through this promise of the Holy Spirit we know that even today the person of Jesus Christ is in an actual, real relation with us. Not pretend. Not imagined. Not hoped for. Not metaphorical. But actual. Real. And his real presence with us by the Holy Spirit is all that we need and desire. Every time we gather, we proclaim this reality to one another and to the world: Jesus Christ lives, it is he that you desire, it is he that you need, and he will give his very self to all and any who ask, forever. Draw near with faith and ask for his help and comfort. Amen.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 353.
 Ibid, 353.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 840.