The Easter season truly ends with a bang: an explosion of life and energy on the feast of Pentecost, the church’s celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our reading from Acts tells the story of how the church was gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. Suddenly there is a sound like rushing wind, and what appears to be tongues of fire overshadow the disciples. These are signs of the presence of God, of the promised Holy Spirit. Now the disciples are able to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, even in languages they do not know. From this point, the church moves out from Jerusalem, with a mission and a message for the world.
Our Gospel today invites us to reflect on the nature of the Holy Spirit. Jesus refers to the Spirit as “the Advocate,” or Paraclete, a term with a host of meanings. In the same way that the Easter Season gives us space to go deeper into the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, so too our celebration of this feast gives us a chance to consider the gift of the Spirit given to the church.
In our reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit is the motive power of the church, the engine that drives it forward; but in our Gospel reading the Spirit is personified. This gift is not just a power but a person, unseen but none the less present, who accompanies the disciples as they move out into the world. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (Jo. 16:13), as Jesus says in our Gospel. The Advocate is a guide, a counselor, a coach, who in some sense parallels Jesus’ own role as leader of the apostolic band. “If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jo. 16:7). Now, after Jesus’ departure, the Spirit will guide the church, setting the pace, as it moves into the future.
The Advocate is also a witness to Jesus, and this is central to the identity of the Spirit in John’s Gospel. “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (Jo. 15:26). The Spirit testifies to Jesus, to what he has done for the world, and the image is drawn from the court room. In a Jewish Court of the time, the judge did a lot of the questioning, and there was no defense counsel. Doesn’t sound very fair, does it? Witnesses could be called to testify to the truth, however, to advocate for the accused, and it’s in this sense that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, testifying to the truth about Jesus.
The Spirit is the witness who goes with us, as we offer witness ourselves. As Jesus says to the disciples, “You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jo. 15:27). The Spirit encourages us to offer our own testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this sense the Holy Spirit is speaking through the disciples, through us, keeping company with the apostolic band as the church moves through history.
As Christians, we are meant to articulate our faith, to spell it out for folks, and to speak up. We’re meant to give voice to a truth that would otherwise be voiceless. How sad that would be, with no one willing to testify to the truth, with no one to advocate for Jesus himself! Confirmands: pay attention. If we don’t speak up, who will? The truth that we’re meant to testify to, is the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that means new life for us and for the world. “The Spirit will take what is mine,” Jesus says, “and declare it to you” (Jo. 16:15).
Finally, the Advocate is also the one who convicts the world. “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jo. 15: 8). This is a difficult idea, and again, it goes back to the court room. The witness who testifies to the truth puts the lie to the accusers. The world convicted Jesus of sin, in a perversion of justice, but now the Holy Spirit will turn the tables by pressing for the truth, and showing it forth. That’s what the world needs to hear. God is the just judge, and the truth will not remain concealed. Jesus was the righteous one, and the Holy Spirit’s testimony now convicts the world.
The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God that now guides the church, and witnesses with and through us. Christians who are sent into the world as witnesses have the Spirit paving the way ahead. We’re not left on our own. Guide, counselor, coach: that’s the work of the Advocate, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit convicts the world of sin, it simply testifies to the world’s need for new life. That’s the testimony that we offer, the truth about Jesus Christ.