In our Gospel today, Jesus promises the disciples that he will send them another “Advocate” or “Helper” to be with them. As we heard last week, he’s sending the Advocate because he’s returning to the Father. He goes “to prepare a place” for them in the house that has “many mansions” (Jo. 14:2). In the meantime, before they arrive, he’s sending the Advocate or “Holy Spirit” (Jo. 14:26) to teach them everything and to remind them of everything he has said. As he says in our Gospel, he will not leave them orphaned. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jo. 14:27), as he says a little later in the same chapter.
So who is this Advocate? There are many signs for the Holy Spirit in Scripture: a rushing wind and tongues of flame at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, empowering them for their mission. Or the sign given at the river Jordan, as the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism “in bodily form like a dove” (Lk. 3:22), as St. Luke’s Gospel puts it. These signs of the Spirit are prefigured in the Old Testament, in the wind from God that moves over the face of the water in the first chapter of Genesis, and in the dove that returns after the flood with the olive branch in its beak. The Holy Spirit that Jesus promises the disciples is a Spirit that that brings new life in its wake.
But the sign of the Spirit that we’re given in our Gospel today is of another order, a less vivid but more personal “Helper.” The Advocate is a teacher and a reminder who connects the disciples with Jesus, with what he’s done and taught. The Spirit offers testimony to Jesus (Jo. 15:26), as it says elsewhere in John’s Gospel. The Spirit is “spiritual,” which doesn’t mean unreal or undetectable, but simply present in a different way from the incarnate Son of God.
After his resurrection, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and sent them out into the world, as it says at the end of John’s Gospel. The early bishop Irenaeus wrote centuries ago that it is by the Spirit that we ascend to the Son, and by the Son that we ascend to the Father. In other words, the mission of the Spirit is to lead people to Jesus! The Spirit is not waiting around for the Church to bring the message, to bring healing and salvation. Rather, the Spirit is already abroad in the world, present before the Church gets there, paving the way by offering testimony to the truth and leading people to the only begotten Son.
In our Gospel, Jesus says that the Spirit will be with us forever. “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (Jo. 14:17). The world does not know him, but we know him. Surprisingly enough, for the Spirit that “blows where it wills” (Jo. 3:8); for the Spirit that is given “without measure” (Jo. 3:34), as Jesus says in the third chapter of John; surprisingly enough, we find the Spirit that cannot be measured or contained present within our very selves.
St. Paul gives us an assist here, when he writes in the Letter to the Romans, “God’s love has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The Spirit is present within us, bringing not only God’s new life but also God’s love. Again, as Paul writes in Galatians, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit is “advocating” for us. According to Paul, the Spirit is the One who prays within us to the Father, teaching us how to pray and what to pray for (Rom. 8:26-27).
When we celebrate the sacraments, our prayer is for the Holy Spirit to be present and powerful in our midst. At Baptism, we invoke the Spirit on the water so that God will be present as the Spirit hovered over the water at creation, and as the Spirit was present at Jesus’ own baptism. At the Holy Eucharist, we invoke the Spirit over the bread and the wine so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. At Confirmation, we pray and lay hands on our candidates for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, to equip them for the work that lies ahead.
Do you know this prayer to the Spirit, from St. Simeon the so-called New Theologian? Maybe that’s the best way to end, with a prayer to the Spirit who is within us. Here’s part of it: “Come, true light! Come, eternal life! Come, hidden mystery! Come, nameless treasure! Come, inexpressible reality! Come, inconceivable Person! Come, endless happiness! Come, light that never sets!… Come, O powerful one, who always makes, remakes and transforms everything by your unique power!… Come, my breath and my life! Come, consolation of my poor soul! Come, my joy, my glory, and my endless delight!”