The Seventh Sunday of Easter
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
In the Upper Room, on the night in which He was betrayed, after washing the disciples’ feet and instituting the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord prepared His disciples for the hardship and sorrow to come by telling them what to expect. They could expect that He would be arrested, treated shamefully, and be killed. They could also expect that He would rise and they would see Him again. They could expect that the Father Himself loved them and heard their prayers.
In the section of the discourse that we heard today the Lord wants them also to know that after the Resurrection and Ascension they should expect to be hated by the world but comforted by the Holy Spirit.
In the sentence before our reading, in verse 24, Jesus says that the world hates Him and His Father without cause. So it is that they will hate us. But even though that is the case, the Helper, better translated the Comforter, will come. Jesus will send Him from the Father. He is the Spirit of Truth, that is the Spirit of Jesus, and Jesus’ Spirit testifies of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that is, He testifies of and about Jesus, that Jesus is the Mediator and Advocate who has laid down His life for us and reconciled us to the Father.
Notice how the Comforter comforts. He comforts with words, with witness and testimony about Jesus. We tend to think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If people are starving that takes precedence over everything else. Their physical needs come first. But, in fact, physical needs are never the greatest need.
Jesus says to the disciples that the hour will come when the world will put them out of the synagogues and think that killing them is a service of worship to God. The Comforter will not stop them. His comfort instead is that while they are killing them, He will testify of Christ to them and through them to the world.
At first blush that seems wrong. He ought to intercede with an act of human care, a bit of physical mercy. But that is not the way it works or what would actually comfort. What we need is the consolation of conscience. That is what ails us. The Holy Spirit is not as concerned about our physical needs as we are. He knows how fleeting our lives are. He is working at comforting us with the Peace that passes all understanding. The strength of the martyrs is not in their rescue from pain, but in their rescue from the accusations of the Law. They can face death with confidence because the Spirit testifies to them of Jesus and by that grace they trust that God’s will is good and that He will keep His Word.
There is a secular counterpart to this reality: rich people aren’t happier than poor people and a happy marriage and enjoyable work is far more important to satisfaction and fulfillment than wealth. If happiness is what we seek, we’d be better off making our wives happy than making money. But what fills our daydreams? Money, possessions, and fame. In a secular way: mental health is more significant than physical health and mental pain is worse than physical pain, but even in secular things we tend to get our priorities jumbled.
This is not to say that Plato was correct when he said that the body is the prison house of the soul. Plato went too far. God created our bodies and made us as bodies. So also has God become a Body and redeemed our bodies. The body is not evil. It is not a prison house. It is who we are. Money, in itself, is not evil either, but the love of money is, and so also is a preoccupation with the body.
Even though the body isn’t evil, the mind, or the soul, is higher than the body. They are not equal. To prove this try this thought experiment. Would you rather have your beloved be physically healthy and fully able to function, but have advanced Alzheimer’s so that he cannot recognize you or know your name or remember anything from your life together? Or would you rather have your beloved with clarity of mind but a paraplegic? Everyone chooses the latter. That is because we live mainly in our minds. Holy Marriage is mainly conversation. That is what companionship is and what Adam needed in the garden before he too was called good by God. Or consider how our mothers consoled us when we were hurt. She didn’t make it all go away. She didn’t fix it. She spoke to us. She told us that the hurt won’t last; that we’ll be just fine; that she loves us. And even when she would give us a hug or place a bandaid upon the spot in pain, it was simply an outward sign of what she said to us. It was a sign that accompanied words of comfort, consolation, and love.
In a similar way, our relationship to God is mainly in words and conversation. He does provide for our physical needs. Jesus healed the sick. But His main comfort is witness about the redeeming Sacrifice of Messiah, His loving intervention and rescue of us by Christ’s physical death and spiritual Hell on the cross. That is the peace we really need.
To get that peace we need God to have a Voice that we can hear, not a general sense that He likes us or is thinking nice things about us or is all around us in nature. None of that can bring real comfort. What we need for consoled consciences is that God speak to us, that He call us by name, and tell us that He loves us. And He does. He has a Voice. His sheep know it. He speaks in the Holy Scriptures, through the preaching of the Church, in the mutual consolation of the brethren and the Holy Absolution. These are the means by which the Comforter comforts us.
Physical pain is a horrible distraction. It wars against spiritual peace. Mental pain is even worse. But in all cases, for those whom the world hates, who are enduring physical and mental pain, who have been abused or forgotten, who are angry or bitter, or in any way hurting, the Spirit bestows peace and comfort through the words of the Messiah, words of Truth, words that declare that God is not angry, that He is not punishing you, that He will not abandon you, that the ransom has been paid on your behalf and the atonement is complete, that this is only the shadow of death and it will not last.
He has told you these things that you would not be surprised and think it strange that you suffer. He does not want you to despair but would have you turn to Him in faith and be consoled, comforted, and encouraged by the cleansing of your conscience in the forgiveness of sins bestowed by the Spirit through witness of Jesus He gives in the Word of God.
And what of those times when the noise in our heads is so loud that we can barely hear the words of the sermon or make sense of them? What if we are so plagued by doubt that even God’s Word seems uncertain? Then we thank God for the visible Word in the Holy Communion, the Office of the Holy Absolution, and Holy Baptism. There too the Holy Spirit testifies to what Christ has done and promised and whom He has called us to be. These too are the means of the Comforter’s comfort that He has given for you. Like hugs and bandaids from your mother, these visible Words from God proclaim God’s love for you, remind you that you belong to Christ, and assuage your conscience. He has not left you as orphans. He has given you the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter. And soon He will bring you home. And your hearts will rejoice, full and free, once again as they were always meant to. Amen.