"The Spirit, Your Comforter"
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today we come to the end of the “week of Sundays." This is now the seventh week of celebrating the joys of Christ’s victory over the grave, over every deadly thing that separates us from our God who loves us. We’ve been enjoying the life that He gives as He restores us to life with God. But now we need comfort, just as the disciples did.
Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading actually come from the night before He would die. He told His disciples that He must leave them. He said that where He was about to go, they could not follow. Jesus leave them? What were they supposed to do? How would they carry on without Him? Since we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension on Thursday, we might be tempted to think that Jesus has left us too. Jesus’ answer is simple: “When the Helper/Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit.
How we need some comfort these days! No, not just “some comfort”—A LOT of comfort! News reports of Christians being persecuted in far off lands continue to confront us—and rightly so. After all, our brothers and sisters in Christ are teaching us to remain faithful even in the midst of suffering. In our own land, we Christians are seen more and more as the problem to be remedied and the enemy to be vanquished. The hour is coming, and is now here, when many think ostracizing and marginalizing Christians is actually offering service to God. Well, not to the true God, but it is offering service—praise and worship—to false gods such as immediate gratification and self-chosen pleasures. As Jesus warns: “they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
But Jesus does not tell us these things to frighten us or to lead us to constant hand-wringing. No, Jesus says “all these things to keep you from falling away.” After all, as He said, if they hated Him, they’ll hate His Christians. If they persecuted Him, they’ll also persecute His Christians. If they executed Him, they’ll also execute His Christians. And, no, I don’t mention these things to frighten you or lead you to constant hand-wringing either. No, this is all about how our Lord would comfort us. Peter said it well as he echoed our Lord’s words: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14). It’s all about how our Lord comforts us with His Spirit—“the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”
When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He was preparing them for that little “in-between time”—that time when He would leave them to go the cross. But He would come back to them in the resurrection on the third day. And then He would leave them again—for “a little while”—when He would ascend to God’s right hand. And with those first twelve disciples, we’re still in that “in-between time” before our Lord comes again. The difference is, we have the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. His cross and His shed blood forgive all our doubts and apprehensions. His victory over the grave gives us confidence and hope—and comfort.
That comfort comes not in the form of a cozy, warm blanket that you put on your bed. It does not come in the form of a comfy chair in which you relax to watch TV. It does not come in the form of “comfort food,” whether chocolate or something called “Southern Comfort.” No, the comfort that Jesus gives is very mighty and very fortifying. “When the [Comforter] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”
Our word “comfort” actually comes from two Latin words. Put together those two Latin words literally mean “strengthen together” or “fortify together.” Instead of cozy warm blankets or soothing chocolates that melt in your mouth, think body builder’s muscle. Or, better yet, think of a towering castle wall, as in “a mighty fortress.” Our Lord’s “comfort” comes through His Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
And how does the Spirit of Truth, the divine Comforter—the divine Fortifier—strengthen you together as Jesus’ disciples? He bears witness about Jesus. He teaches you all things and brings to your remembrance all that Jesus has said and done for you. He gives you the peace of sins forgiven that the world cannot give (see John 14:26-27). He also convicts you and the world of sin. He convinces you that Jesus has come from the Father, has won your salvation, and has returned to the Father. And He convinces you that the ruler of this world—the old evil foe himself—has been judged and awaits his sentence (see John 16:8-11). Now that strengthens. That fortifies. That gives comfort.
The Holy Spirit helps and comforts you by fortifying you, by nourishing you, by transforming you, and by renewing your strength. In your Baptism, you have received new life by being joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. You have been reborn, born anew into life with God. In your Baptism, your Lord says to you: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezek. 36:25).
But you cannot live that new life without constant care or sustenance. Just as no infant can care for himself/herself, no child of God can care for himself/herself. The Holy Spirit comes to give you the love and food of Jesus Christ. And not only that, but He also protects you from things that you may not know or understand. Not only do you need protection from the obvious problems in life, but you also need it from the spiritual assaults that you cannot see coming. So the Holy Spirit feeds and nourishes you, protects and defends you as God’s holy and dearly loved children. He gives you a new heart. He puts a new spirit within you. He removes your heart of stone, and He gives you a heart of flesh—flesh that lives with God and from His Word.
The Holy Spirit feeds and protects you in ways that you cannot see but can only believe. When the Holy Spirit feeds you on Holy Communion, you cannot see that you are actually receiving Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood. But you believe it, and so you receive the nourishment and immortality that the Spirit gives there. When the Holy Spirit protects you with the word of forgiveness, you cannot see Jesus speaking that word to you. Yet you believe that the pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, and thus you receive the Spirit’s defense and protection given there.
Our Lord Jesus says, “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Where does this testifying take place? Not in a courtroom. Not in a congressional hearing. Not in a baseball stadium or a movie theater. But right here, in the Church, right here where the Gospel and Sacraments are delivered to you. Here you have the Spirit’s comforting, strengthening, fortifying testimony. No, He does not necessarily give you a warm feeling in your heart. But He certainly does testify that you have received and still receive the life of the Lord Jesus. He does testify that Jesus’ life shapes you and renews you in the life that you have from birth. And by this testimony, the Spirit feeds and fortifies the Lord’s life in you so that you may continue to grow and mature until the day when your renewal is complete.
Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit. So, with the Holy Spirit not only working for you, but also working in you, you can be bold and say with certain confidence: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). Amen.