Easter is always a beginning, never an end. Ahead of us lies Christ’s Ascension into heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Ahead of the apostles and generations of Christians lie centuries of working and waiting… faithfully building the kingdom of God, ‘til Christ calls us home. The wait has been long. It may be much longer. But it will not be lonely. Jesus tells us: I will not leave you orphaned.
Help is here right now. Jesus promises: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate. Jesus has alluded to the Holy Spirit before. But this time he gives the Holy Spirit a job description: the Advocate… one who counsels and defends. The Father is the Creator. The Son is the Redeemer. They are familiar and relatively easy roles to visualize. Think of all the images we have of Jesus from blessed babe, to miracle worker, from sacred victim to risen Savior. Then picture the Father. For me the definitive image will always be Michelangelo’s dynamic Creator giving life to the languid Adam. But spirits are another story. Our only picture of the Holy Spirit is that of a descending dove or a tongue of fire. It’s sketchy imagery at best. And because we are such visual learners, we often have difficulty understanding and appreciating the nature and role of the Holy Spirit.
Despite this relative unfamiliarity, we ignore the Holy Spirit at our peril. This is not some obscure supporting character in the scriptural narrative. As Christ tells us, even though: the world neither sees him or knows him; this is the abiding presence of God in our lives. In sending the Spirit of Truth, Jesus leaves us with a moral compass… perfectly aligned with the will of God because the Holy Spirit is God, one with the Father and the Son.
From his own personal experience with human nature, Jesus knows that life can seem very long; memories can be faulty; flesh can be weak. We need a lot of help. That’s why Christ tells us that the Holy Spirit will not only be with us, he will be in us. And the more we think and act in that context, the greater the peace, the joy, the love that this life holds for us… and the greater our faith in the glory of the next.
There are no little lessons in this gospel. It begins and ends on a grand scale with very specific instructions on exactly how our loving God wants us to live our lives. Jesus tells us: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. What a surprising, fresh, endearing way for almighty God to instruct his creation. No pillars of fire. No stone tablets. No ringing “shall” and “shall not.” The syntax of this one sentence illustrates a new relationship with God. Jesus frames the thought in a conditional premise: If you love me. Then he pays it off with a concise statement of the inevitable results of that love: You will keep my commandments. Jesus invites us. He does not order us. He gives no imperative that we must keep his commandments. He states an obvious cause and effect: Fill your heart with love and there will be no room for hate. Fill your day with love and there will be no time for mischief.
In this gospel, form follows function. If your purpose and your practice are the sublime beauty of Christ’s love, you will reject the ugliness of sin. If you are guided by the Spirit of Truth, you will not be false. Truth and beauty: these are the gifts of the risen Christ. These are the presence of the Holy Spirit. Cherish them. Rejoice in them. Share them today with someone you love. Alleluia! He is risen.