Consider these remarkable words in our gospel today. First, “He will give you another Advocate.” The word for advocate in Greek is paracletus, from which we have the word Paraclete. Now, advocate or helper is not a bad rendering. And advocate, a word we sometimes use for a defense lawyer like the ones from Babcock Partners Louisian motorcycle accidents, is not a bad connotation, given that the Holy Spirit, like Christ himself, stands up for us—sinners though we are—and in God’s court pronounces us forgiven and righteous. But I for one like the literal meaning of the word: para-cletus: one who calls along side. Not just in court or in judgment but in all of life.
You see, in elementary school, David Libby was my best friend. And one day I missed the bus home. It had just snowed a bit—an oddity for Beltsville, Maryland—and there I was, trudging home in the slush—alone, lonely, sure to face a concerned, if not angry mother. And then, a voice, from behind. A voice I knew and trusted. “Hey, Tim, wait up!” David Libby, my best friend, had literally called alongside me. Para-cletus. What a joy! What a relief! Now, no matter what happened, I was not alone. That’s what the Holy Spirit does and has been doing each day in your life since your baptism into Christ.
But then consider a second remarkable word. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” That just takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Here is Jesus Christ, the Word of God become flesh, speaking to his disciples right before he dies, and he makes this astounding promise: “I will not leave you orphaned.” And we’re in that upper room. And Christ speaks still to us today. In whatever state you find yourself today, the promise of the one who is Light, Good Shepherd, Way, Truth, Resurrection and Life is unbreakable. There is not a single person in this room who does not know what it is to feel and to be orphaned, not just alone, but abandoned—whether or not our parents are still alive. We know this sense, and it cuts across cultures, races, languages and nationalities. We know this feeling because it is the universal human experience. And it is against that very experience that Jesus says to you, promises you, swearing an oath with his body and blood in this very meal, that he will not leave you orphaned. Not only do we have brothers and sisters around this table, but the one who is bread of life meets us in the bread; the one who is the true vine, meets us in the fruit of the vine. And we have life.
And, third, Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live.” Against our loneliness, Jesus places the Paraclete, who calls alongside; against our abandonment, Jesus promises never to leave us; and, finally, against death itself, Jesus promises life. A lot of people dream about immortal souls, or transmigration of souls, or all manner of things that will keep us alive automatically, so to speak. Jesus is not talking about such things but instead is promising something far different. “Because I live,” Jesus proclaims. Our hope as Christians rests in the resurrected Jesus Christ alone. This is why it takes Christians seven weeks to celebrate Easter! This is why we are baptized—into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is why daily, when we confess our sins and our mortality, Christ raises us up in that same baptism through the power of the Holy Spirit. When St. Paul asked, “Death where is your sting and victory?” he answered, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s like saying: “Because I live….” Three remarkable promises, all wrapped together in seven little verses! Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t that get your foot tapping, or your face smiling? Isn’t this reason to rejoice?
In Martin Luther’s day, adults still jumped up and down when they were happy and did not think that the only proper attitude was to sit like plaster saints. So, when he wrote a hymn in 1524 that starts out: “Now, dear Christian congregation, rejoice! And let us jump for joy, so that, comforted and altogether we sing lustily and with love for what God has done to us, and for the sweet miracle that he won for us at great cost.”
You, my dear Houston brothers and sisters, let’s jump for joy! And let’s use these remarkable words of Martin Luther, in this surprisingly upbeat tune—some of Luther’s opponents complained that it was too happy to be sung in church—to celebrate this gospel reading today: we are not alone; we are not abandoned; in Christ we will live.
Luther paints for us here the story of salvation as he imagines it. Instead of talking about salvation, he actually recounts it in a balladeer’s form, allowing God the Father and God the Son to converse with one another about their love and mercy for humanity. And in the last verses, we hear of him sending the Holy Spirit in our sorrow who comes with comfort and truth. And then says to us, “What I have done and taught, you should also do and teach to expand God’s kingdom to his praise and glory. And guard yourself against human laws that try to ruin the pure gift. This is my final word to you.” And, as Luther’s audience knew, when you mention a final word in a ballad, you’re done with the song. God will not leave you lonely, will not abandon you, will not leave you in death: This is my final word, so that we can get on with the singing. Amen. And the peace….