How are we going to get through this? How are we going to get through this?
This was a question on the minds of the disciples as they began to realize at the Last Supper, from which Jesus’ words today are taken, that he was leaving them, that he would be taken from them by a world that did not understand or appreciate him or his message.
How are we going to get through this?
This is the same question many of us ask when we are facing great loss or uncertainty – when a beloved has an overwhelming diagnosis, like Alzheimer’s Disease or ALS; when a father of two, without insurance, is suddenly killed leaving behind his wife and family without savings; when not only one, but two young people, recently married, are laid off from their jobs… All things that happened recently to people I know. I suspect you know stories like this, too. You may be living a story like this.
How are we going to get through this?
Last week, when it started to sink in that this pandemic will likely be with us into 2021, I began asking myself, How are we going to get through this? Perhaps you wonder about this, too.
Jesus says: “If you love me, and obey the command I give youI will ask the One who sent me to give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
Upon these words our hope rests.
The relationship Jesus had with his disciples was unique, the deepest bond of the heart. He was not only the disciples teacher, but he gathered them into a community of mutual care and support. His presence was so powerful that for people whose lives were full of struggle and hopelessness, he provided peace, love, and hope. In our culture it can be hard to understand the nature of this relationship, unless you’ve had a precious teacher, as some in our community have, like Lama Marut or GuruMayi. He was their anchor in a stormy sea..
For his disciples, the thought of losing Jesus likely triggered fears of abandonment and uncertainty. How would they get through it? Any time we face a significant loss, whether of a loved one, a job, or a hoped for future, we may wonder how we will manage, how we will get through it.
In the face of this kind of concern, Jesus offers his disciples and us words that are both of comfort and challenge. He reveals that the way forward, the way beyond grief and fear about the future, is to follow his one and only command, his one and only teaching in the Gospel of John: to love.
His message is clear: though I am leaving you, as long as you follow my command to love, you will never be orphaned, you will never be without the Divine presence.
Love is the path. Love is the destination. Love is the way to get through a time of fear, grief, and uncertainty.
Recognizing that love is not always easy, especially when times are threatening and dangerous, as they were for the disciples and as they are for us; Jesus promises that after he is gone, God will send another Advocate, who will give them and us what he himself gave: love, peace, and hope. The use of the term “Advocate” in this context is telling. An Advocate is someone who is called to our side in a time of danger, when life, or life as we have known it, is threatened.
As you think back over your life, are there times when you were grieving or in a precarious position that someone walked into your life to care for you, support you, and give you hope? Someone you might call a Godsend? Or, perhaps, after the death of a beloved, someone comes into your life and you know, you just know deep down inside, that somehow in a way that you could never fully explain that person was sent to you by God or your loved one? I think of my beloved nuns, Sr. Susan and Sr. Meg who showed up in my life after my son was born; I think of my husband, David, who showed up after my father died. Not only did these Godsends help me through challenging times; their presence was the pathway to an abundant life.
Jesus takes his gift to us one remarkable step further. He says that not only will he send an Advocate, but that the One who abides with us will be within us. It’s not merely that we are sent helpers along the way, those who manifest the Spirit of God to us, but that as we love the Spirit of God lives within us. The inexhaustible richness of Spirit flows from a well within us that will never run dry!
We need not wait for a future time when all is right with the world to see and know God’s presence; to see and feel that somehow our lives are where they are “supposed” to be.
It is when we begin loving right now that we manifest God’s presence in the world.
Our lives have meaning, purpose, and fulfillment not merely when everything around us is how we think it should be or want it to be.
Our lives have meaning, purpose, and fulfillment whenever we love.
The love that Jesus commands is a love that does not pick and choose; it is not a love that is just for those we like or who like us; it is not a love just for those who are easy to love or who adore us; it is not a love that exists only in good times, but it is a love that requires we show up and stand up in bad times. Though it might feel impossible to love in this way, Jesus promises that his Spirit will be with us and within us to not only help us meet this challenge, but to grow in our relationship with God in the process.
When my brother, Dukie, lived in a residence with 39 other people who had late stage Huntington’s Disease – which is like Alzheimer’s and MS combined – I often felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering. It also triggered the trauma I carried from my mother’s long struggle with the illness. Before my visits, I would sit for a minute in the car and pray for help – that I could drop my own “stuff” and really show up for my brother and the other residents as a loving presence. The Spirit within never failed me. The staff sometimes even commented that my presence was a gift not only for my brother, but for them and the other residents. What they saw was the Spirit coming through me, the Spirit I had asked for help so that I would not be paralyzed by my own feelings of overwhelm, but could show up in a loving way before I walked through the door.
Is there someone you find challenging to show up for? Someone for whom your loving presence would mean the world? Today Jesus reminds you, that he will send an Advocate to help you reach beyond whatever may be holding you back so that you can be love in the world. Not only that, God’s Spirit lives within you. As you reach out to others in love, God’s own love comes through you.
The Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield writes “What matters is love…The happiness we discover in life is not about possessing or owning or even understanding. Instead, it is the discovery of this capacity to love, to have a loving, free, wise relationship with all of life… Out of love, our path can lead us to learn to use our gifts to heal and serve, to create peace around us, to honor the sacred in life, to bless whatever we encounter, and to wish all beings well…We can find a clarity and simplicity even in the midst of this complex world when we discover that the quality of heart we bring to life is what matters most…All other spiritual teachings are in vain if we cannot love.”
How are we going to get through this time? How are we going to get through times of loss and grief? How are we going to get through this pandemic? To the extent that we can keep our eyes and hearts focused on the love we can offer someone else today- we will find our way. As our own Michelle Barclay says, we can be the best part of someone else’s day. By keeping our hearts and eyes focused on the love we can give today, we are creating a future filled with hope.
“If you love me, and obey the command I give you, to love, I will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.I will not leave you orphaned; I will come back to you. The Spirit abides with you and within you.”
How will we get through this? A single word says it all: Love. Amen.