The Holy Spirit is that presence which allows us to stand up and make a difference
In this week’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus promises his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit. But he doesn’t call it the Holy Spirit, but rather he calls it the Advocate (παράκλητον which is sometimes transliterated as Paraclete). It seems easy to miss the significance of this unusual nomenclature.
This term seems to speak of the Holy Spirit as an internal force that advocates or stands up for us. This becomes particularly interesting when we juxtapose that the devil is frequently described as the accuser. “Who do we think we are?” that ancient presence whispers into our psyche at close range and thereby undermines all sense of our inherent worth.
In Christian theology and mythology there is the age-old battle between the God and the devil. This conflict transpires from the Garden of Eden through to the end times. This battle becomes especially acute when Jesus is subjected to temptation for forty days in the wilderness.
This is also a battle that takes place in each person’s life. We desperately look for a place to stand in the world, a place to feel safe, comfortable and supported. Most of us find that place by learning to conform to the accepted standards of our given culture. We learn what’s expected, where the power lies and how to navigate through the explicit and implicit rules and roles of our culture.
But the follower of the Christ, knows in some deep inner place, that there is something wrong with culture. The followers of Christ empathically feel the pain of the excluded and rejected. Each culture is built upon these kinds of necessary exclusions. Jesus states, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for this world,’ even when they can’t quite articulate specifically what the problem is. As those who follow the Christ begin to express their discomfort with injustice and oppression, as they speak up for victims and outcasts, they predictably find that they no longer receive the endorsement of the culture. They stand accused and accursed, they stand with Jesus.
It is at this point that the Advocate, a.k.a. The Holy Spirit fills them with a peace which surpasses all understanding. When all support has left, when we feel rejected in standing with the rejected, it is at this point that we feel a new and different presence that allows us to stand in the long tradition of prophets and martyrs and feel real peace for the first time.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make us feel good, it is that presence which allows us to stand up and make a difference as we speak the uncomfortable truths that need to be said.