Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman on The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17th May 2020 via Zoom
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
15 Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keepmy commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be inyou.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Today’s Gospel reading follows on directly from last week’s reading – the well-known passage often used at funerals: “Do not let your hearts be troubled … in my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places,” … or “many mansions.”
We’re back at the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday, in that part of John’s Gospel often referred to as the Farewell Discourses – when Jesus says goodbye to his disciples, before his arrest and crucifixion.
Maybe, for some of us, it’s apt that our Gospel reading takes us back to Holy Week, for some may feel that the continuing (necessary) restrictions encouraging us to stay home, curtailing our freedom, and preventing most of us from entering our churches, are more reminiscent of Holy Saturday than of the Easter season.
Perhaps you feel you’re stuck in a long Holy Saturday – unable to celebrate the resurrection and the Easter joy.
Perhaps you feel you’re somewhere in the waste land, or in limbo, awaiting rebirth … resurrection … the dawn of a new season.
Perhaps – and I suspect this may apply to many of us – perhaps, you move back and forth between resurrection hope, and Holy Saturday emptiness and grief – sometimes enjoying the signs of new life and re-birth all around you, as various new flowers and trees continue to emerge in your gardens … as the rose bushes begin to bud … as baby birds appear at your bird feeders … At other times, thrown back to Holy Saturday … the sealed tomb … the darkness and despair.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus promises his disciples – promises us – that he won’t leave us orphaned. We will see him. He will reveal himself to us. And the Father will give us another advocate, or another paraclete – one who stands beside us, to help and defend us.
This is the promise of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God, who abides with us, and who will be in us.
We know that the Holy Spirit did indeed fall upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, filling them with power from on high. And we wait in hope that, when Pentecost comes, we too will feel the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit fall on us anew.
But we don’t necessarily have to wait until Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit.
When the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, in the Upper Room, on the first Easter Day, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit abides with us now. He – or, perhaps, she – or maybe we should use the gender-neutral “they” – the Spirit is with us … and in us … and among us … blowing where she will … sometimes a breeze so gentle that we fail to hear her whisper … at other times, a howling gale that blows some doors wide open … and others, firmly shut.
Sometimes, when we still ourselves … when we close our eyes and block out all distractions … we might recognise the presence of the Spirit within us, or beside us … gently guiding us … consoling us … bringing us that peace which passes all understanding.
At other times, the Spirit might take us completely by surprise, stopping us in our tracks, turning us about, changing the tack on which our sails were set.
A few weeks ago, on the 3rd Sunday after Easter, I mentioned in my sermon that I was struggling to encounter God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that I wasn’t feeling his presence as often as I’d like. I suspected that was partly because I wasn’t spending enough time in stillness … in contemplation. I probably resolved to spend more time in stillness – a resolve I’ve mostly failed to keep!
Yet, the Holy Spirit continues to take me by surprise … to whisper to me … to inspire me … to comfort me … to confront me.
I know that our church buildings are sacred spaces … spaces of encounter.
I know that, normally, for most of us, when we sing those words, “Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place,” “this place” means All Saints, or St Mary’s, or St Giles.
Many of my “Holy Spirit” moments … moments of encounter … of transcendence … have happened in various churches and cathedrals, including, as many of you know, in All Saints.
But the Holy Spirit came first – on that first Easter Day – to the disciples in the locked and bolted upper room. She came again – on the Day of Pentecost – and “filled the entire house where [the disciples] were sitting.”
The Holy Spirit blows where she will. He can’t be confined … can’t be constrained … can’t be controlled … or commanded … or commandeered.
But, she is freely given, a gift from God to all those who believe – a gift which will be with us for ever.
Thursday is Ascension Day. We’re all invited to join with Ripon College Cuddesdon in a Zoom Eucharist on Thursday morning, to celebrate this principal feast. We then observe the nine days after Ascension Day, until the eve of Pentecost, as days of prayer and preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
I urge you, in those days of prayer and preparation, to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – pray that the Spirit may, once again, fall afresh on us, and upon the whole people of God … That she may fall upon those waiting in fear and trembling, behind locked and bolted doors … on us as we wait in our houses, or homes … on clergy presiding in empty churches, behind locked doors … may fall on our schools … on our hospitals … on our care homes … on the homes of our friends and family, who we can’t yet see.
And pray that the glory of the Lord may shine all around, stopping us in our tracks – as Moses was stopped by the burning bush – consecrating our homes, and gardens, so that – wherever we worship … wherever we pause to pray … we discover that we do, indeed, stand on holy ground, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here … Here, in our homes … in us … in we who are the body of Christ … blessed … broken … scattered … dispersed … but not left orphaned. For Jesus promised he is coming to us.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Holy Spirit, come.
Holy Spirit, come.
 John 20.22
 Acts 2:2