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Reflection March 29, 2020
"Having Our Hearts Comforted” - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
We live in a time when we could all use some comforting. But where might we go for such comfort now that we are basically all home-bound?
So where does our comfort come from? It comes, according to Christ Jesus, from the Holy Spirit. As Jesus tells us in John 14:26: “And the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you.”
The Greek word used is Paracletus – which is a difficult word to fully translate. The translation is: “one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate.” So various Bibles translate Paracletus as “Counselor,” “Advocate,” “Helper,” and “Comforter.” I have a personal preference for “Comforter.” We, Christians, actually have two Paracletes – two “Comforters.” The first “Comforter” is Jesus himself.
As Jesus teaches his disciples in John14: 15-16: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (another Helper – another Comforter), to be with you forever. 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 in you.”
In other words, Jesus serves as our first Comforter, our first Helper and Advocate. On the night before he died, he assures the disciples that he will not leave them orphaned (John 14:18). He will ask the Father to send the Spirit to them so they might be comforted, so they might be strengthened to face an unfriendly world without the bodily presence of Jesus.
There is little doubt the disciples could have scattered forever after the death of Jesus. Who could possibly believe that Jesus hanging on the cross as a criminal was actually the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior?
And yet believe they did! And because of their belief, we also believe. And the disciples were confirmed in their belief through the Resurrection and the sending of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, on that first Pentecost Sunday.
But just as those early disciples needed the Comforter of God so do we today in our troubled times. We need someone to heal us and help us and guide us along the way. And this someone promised us by Jesus is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
This Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit who lead Jesus to his surrender on the cross but also the Spirit who brought Jesus up out of death. What happened on the cross is that God the Father, through the power of Spirit, suffered with and through Christ Jesus.
As the Lutheran theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, states: “If God himself was in Christ, then according to Pauline language, the Father suffered with and in the Son; and he did so by virtue of his indwelling in the Son through the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, what this means is not only did Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, suffer on the cross but the complete Trinity of God suffered on the cross. The other persons of the Trinity were so joined with the Son that it would be hard to see where one ended and the others began.
Most of us were raised to understand Jesus’ dying on the cross simply as his personal atonement because of human sin. But this is not solely what Scripture teaches us. Scripture teaches us that Jesus and the other persons of the Trinity are completely united, completely one. So when Jesus died on the cross – the entire Trinity of God was on the cross suffering together. How could this not be the case?
When Jesus cries out in Mark’s Gospel with feelings of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” this can be misleading. Jesus Christ, Son of God, could not, cannot, be abandoned by God.
The three persons of God are one – completely – eternally. When Jesus felt abandoned – the Trinity of God felt those feelings. There was nothing felt by Jesus which was not also felt by the other two persons of the Trinity. The suffering of the Son echoed deep in the fullness of God. The entire Trinity experienced the pain of the Son from the inside. It was not only the Son who suffered on Golgotha, the other persons of God suffered the agony as well.
As Christians, the cross stands for us as the ultimate icon of how far God is willing to go to suffer with and for his creatures. God feels the pain of every creature from the inside. There is no suffering endured by any creature that does not deeply echo in the heart of our Creator. As Jesus asserts in Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows worth only a small amount of money? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing about it.”
We look at our world and we recoil at its inherent harshness and its surfeit of suffering. This is especially true as we witness the suffering writ large over our world because of the corona virus. Do we not together recoil at all the suffering we see in our world? Even our young know more than they should about the tears flowing from so many wounded and suffering creatures.
Yet let me assure us that every pain we ever endure, every tear that falls from our eyes, is known and felt by our God. As the great 19th Century Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, stated it: “God sees what is hidden and knows the torment. He counts the tears and forgets nothing.”
Not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing it. Everything that happens in our world is known and experienced by the God who made all there is. We are not abandoned. We are not orphans, even those of us who no longer have fathers or mothers living among us.
We may well wonder how God knows everything happening in our world. We may well wonder how God feels every pain and sorrow (and joy) experienced throughout the great vastness of creation.
God accomplishes this feat through the all-present power of the Spirit of God. This Spirit is everywhere in our cosmos. Every particle of creation is immersed in the great sea of God’s Loving Spirit. Every creature is enmeshed in the all-present Spirit of the Living God.
This Spirit of the Living God, comforts us – consoles us – surrounds us - every moment we live. As most know, my father died when I was eleven. It’s hard having a parent die when you’re so young. Yet I know now that I was not left fatherless. I know now that the Spirit of God continued to father me. I know now that the Spirit of God comforted me in my loss and in my sorrow. This is what the Spirit of God does – though often in muted and quiet ways. So I’ve experienced through the devastating loss of my beloved Beth and the loss of so many of our fellow faith-family members.
Yet the Spirit of God came to us only because Jesus was willing to go to the cross. As Moltmann notes: “The Holy Spirit comes at the cost of Christ’s departure; the price of his coming is the cross, and he comes in the power of the Easter mystery.” In other words, we’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit but the cost was high; the cost was the cross of Christ. The cost was paid because of the great compassion of Christ. The cost was paid because of the never-ending, all-consuming, love of the Creator for all creation.
A question naturally arises: what does this mean for us in our suffering world today? What this means is that the Comforter of God covers all creation, covers every one of God’s creatures, with consolation and care. God comforts us even when we don’t fully experience the comfort. God cares for us even when we don’t feel God’s care, even when we feel lost and alone as many feel currently.
Let’s be certain of one thing: Christ came for “the lost, the least, and the last.” Christ came to care for every living creature that has ever been or ever will be. And Christ cares for all creatures through the power of the Spirit.
This care – this comfort – is poured upon us through the power of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. So when tears fall from our eyes, the Comforter is there to keep track of them. When we want to despair over the evil we encounter in our world, the Comforter is there to give us courage to keep going. Whenever we feel our hearts breaking (as I preached about this past Sunday) we experience the power and presence of the Comforter.
God will comfort us when we fall and when we fail and when the tears come. God comforts us through the power of the All-Holy Helper, through the care of the All-Compassionate Comforter of God.
Because this is how God works in our world, we’re invited to this sacred work. If we want to help God, which we’re all created to do, we must help and comfort one another. How will people know we follow Christ? They will know we follow Christ when we bring the comfort and consolation and care of Christ into our wounded, suffering world.
We must work at becoming the embodied comfort of Christ to all who are in need of comfort. We must work at becoming, like Christ, people who care for “the lost, the least, and the last.”
There are lessons to be learned as we endure these days of self-imposed containment. We’re called to deep daily prayer. Please know that I’ll be praying each morning for YOU! I ask you to join in these daily prayers for US!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor