The Feast of Pentecost, Year C, Church of the Resurrection, Franklin

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth” (Jo. 14:17).

Easter ends with Pentecost, the final day of the season: fifty days during which the church reads from the Gospel of John, and invites her members to go deeper in and further on in the mystery of our salvation. John’s Gospel lends itself to such a project, because it offers us an extended meditation on what it all means. In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses words like “light” and “life,” “truth” and “joy,” “love” and “peace” to focus our attention on the meaning of his ministry. The Easter season gives us time to unpack the meaning of the words, and what they mean for Christian faith.

The feast of Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church gathered together in Jerusalem, in the days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven: a familiar story told in the Acts of the Apostles that we’ve read today. Our Pentecost Gospel, by contrast, invites us to think again about the meaning of the gift we’ve been given, the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s an exercise in that extended meditation that is characteristic of the season, and a characteristic of John’s Gospel: an opportunity for us to go deeper in and further on.

Our Gospel focuses us on the Spirit of truth, and so we begin with the first point, that the Spirit who is the gift of the Father to the disciples connects them (and us) to Jesus Christ himself.  Earlier in the chapter Jesus tells the disciples that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jo. 14:6). Jesus himself is the truth. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jo. 14:6), he tells those gathered around. When he says a few verses later that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, this word “truth” serves to connect the Spirit to Jesus himself.

It’s the Spirit’s business to testify to the truth that Jesus embodies, not only in his words but in his deeds. As Jesus tells the disciples a little bit later, in the next chapter, “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 offers testimony to the truth, reminding us of all that Jesus has done and taught; as it says in our Gospel today, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jo. 14:26). “He will take what is mine and declare it to you,” Jesus tells them (Jo. 15:15).

That leads to the second point. Truth has a compelling quality, convincing and convicting, and so the Spirit of truth is going to move us ahead in ministry. Jesus tells the disciples that they too will testify; again, in the next chapter, “You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jo. 16:12-13). But this testimony that the disciples offer to the truth is only possible because the Holy Spirit dwells within them. As it says in our Gospel, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (Jo. 14:17). The Spirit teaches us to know the Son, deeper in and further on in the truth of Christ, and to testify to him.

Christians are called to offer testimony in many ways, not the least of which is the ability to articulate to others what our relationship with Jesus means to us. Being able to do this gracefully is basic to the mission of the Church. One way we can work on this is to tell our stories to each other; to share our spiritual autobiographies with each other and look for the hand of God in our lives. How is the life of Jesus being embodied in our lives? If we can see that for ourselves then we can offer testimony to the truth of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Confirmands, and everyone else in the church, take note! That’s the Spirit of truth at work within us, and a pretty simple formula it is for moving forward with the mission of the Church.

The final point: these days there are challenges to truth all around us. In the age of “fake news” we wonder about the veracity of the testimony of various kinds that’s offered us: claims of the media, the words of politicians, and so forth. At the same time, there is widespread doubt on the popular level about the existence of any transcendent truth. You have your truth and I have mine. We’re all so stuck with our own truth that we can’t imagine there could be a truth that included all of us. The Spirit of truth unleashed at Pentecost is the antidote to this despair and doubt. It teaches us to know the Son of God, to recall what he has done, to go deeper in and further on in our life in Christ.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee