Dear Members and Friends,
I am the product of many whose lives have touched mine, from the famous, distinguished, and powerful to the little known and the poor.
-Dorothy Height, 20th century
Happy Birthday! It is a few days early, but this Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost, the day we remember the Holy Spirit of God being poured out upon Jesus’ followers, 50 days after Easter. It is commonly referred to as the Birthday for the Church.
The Pentecost story and celebration generally focuses on the powerful manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit. We remember how the early followers experienced it in the sound of a mighty rushing wind and experienced tongues of fire hovering over their heads. We recall how they began to speak in various “tongues”, usually interpreted as a wide variety of languages, and how all those gathered in Jerusalem that day from around the Mediterranean world heard them praising God and each of them understood them in their own language. Truly the Holy Spirit was a mighty manifestation of God’s presence which transformed the hesitant, fearful followers of Jesus into a force which changed the world.
But there is another side to the Holy Spirit which we do not usually reflect on in our Pentecost celebrations. That is the understanding of the Holy Spirit as sent by Jesus to his followers to stand by their side as a Comforter and an Advocate. The actual Greek word Jesus uses when he speaks of the Holy Spirit in this way is Paraclete. It is best understood as “the one who appears on another’s behalf.” Jesus speaks to his followers of the Holy Spirit in this way during his final meal with them in that Upper Room, the night he is betrayed, on the eve of his death.
Jesus knows that his time is drawing to a close and that he can’t hide much longer from the conflict that has been growing with the religious leaders and the political establishment of Rome. So, John tells us in his Gospel, Jesus gathers his friends for one last evening together. He washes their feet. They eat bread and drink wine. He knows that he will soon die, that this night will be their last. He is overwhelmed with affection; he can’t stop loving his friends. All he wants is everlasting communion with them. So he tell them that he loves them – he professes his love over and over again. Every last moment with them is a delight, moments he will take with him beyond this world, cherishing the thought of his loved ones until they are reunited someday.
So, Jesus tells them that after he is gone he will send to them the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. The presence of the Paraclete will remind them of Jesus – to bear witness to his life in his absence. The Paraclete will keep alive the memories of their communion – the Holy Spirit will continue to communicate and teach them about God’s love for them and for all the world. Jesus says to them: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”.
The truth is that he loves them – that he will always long for them, that he cannot imagine his life without their, that his soul groans with sighs too deep for words at the thought of them. Jesus reassures his beloved friends that in his absence the Paraclete will deliver his love notes to them, words written on their hearts.
I am far from Jesus. I am not equating myself with Jesus at all. But I have been with you for 24 years as your Pastor and our time together in that fashion is swiftly drawing to an end. As the weeks and days pass by and we draw nearer to my final Sunday with you, I do feel more and more of the emotions Jesus expressed in John’s Gospel. I am growing increasingly aware of my love for all of you, and for Christ Congregational Church as a whole, and for my life with you as Pastor, Teacher, Confidant and Friend. My heart does grow heavy with that love and begins to groan with the coming separation that will tear at the bonds of that love.
As I said, I am not Jesus, and so I cannot send to you a Paraclete. But I can assure you that the Holy Spirit will continue to be with you. That promise comes from Jesus and from God, not from me. But I bear witness to the truth of that promise in my own life, in our common life together, and I know that the promise will continue to be real for you. I will leave you in a few weeks. My heart will continue to carry you in my thoughts and my prayers will continue to be lifted for you. But most importantly, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, will continue to fill you, surround you, empower you, protect you and guide you. That is the gift and the truth which we will celebrate together this Pentecost Sunday.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida