John 16: 12-15
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
This Thursday is Ascension day, when we remember Christ’s bodily Ascension into Heaven. He has died, been resurrected and now takes his place in Heaven with God the father.
I have been wondering how the disciples must have been feeling. Jesus, the person they had left everything to follow, the person they loved, has been crucified and resurrected – just as he said he would – and he is now telling them he is leaving them for good this time. How on earth could they make sense of any of it?
They knew he died, they knew he was resurrected so presumably they now knew he meant what he said and would be leaving them.
Hardly surprising that it was confusing. It has been debated and discussed and prayed about ever since. It cannot be explained but then again so much of Jesus’ life and teaching invites deeper investigation. The disciples were often confused when Jesus was among them and he knew that they would find it difficult to carry on his ministry as he was asking them to. So, he was planning to send the Spirit of truth, which was another confusing and unimaginable piece of news.
The one thing we can be sure of in life is that everything changes – as a Christian I am also sure that no matter what happens God is with us in it and that nothing can separate us from His love. Verse 12 of John 16 has always intrigued me: 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The apostles had to carry on Jesus ministry in a particular time and place and make sense of it for their context. We have to do the same in our context which is why we continue to study the scripture and make sense of it in our times and places.
Not only that, the full meaning of a life dedicated to following Jesus’ teaching was by no means an easy one. Jesus never said we would not suffer and there are numerous examples in the bible of how the apostles met grizzly ends. Following Jesus often means going against the grain and while it is joyful and liberating much of the time, it is can be costly and difficult to bear.
More people are asking big questions at the moment which is a great opportunity for the message of God’s saving grace to be shared. Sadly, it is also an opportunity for misleading teaching and the spread of harmful ideas for instance that the virus being some kind of punishment.
When we are confronted with teaching or messages that don’t sit right we need to check in with our thinking and ask prayerfully how it fits with what we already know, what our experience is, what other people we respect are saying and best of all go back to Jesus teaching in the gospels. None of us will ever get to the bottom of it, but we will gain something every time we investigate a little bit more. My doctrine teacher used to say that all we can hope for is to be confused in a more informed way!
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth sent to guide us and comfort us and give us the strength to resist teaching which distracts us from Jesus’ message: “Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself”. And I would encourage us to remember that we are all loved. That’s what I believe all this – Jesus on earth, his death and resurrection – boils down to. As Julian of Norwich concluded “Love was his meaning”.
Rev’d Gini Williams