“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, 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.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 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.”
“I will not leave you orphaned.” This is one of my favorite verses. In this passage from John, Jesus is aware that his death will be difficult for the disciples. Jesus reassures the disciples that he will never abandon them, and that although he is not physically going to be with them any more, he is sending a Comforter, a Counselor, an Advocate, to abide with them forever, the Holy Spirit.
And this Holy Spirit descended not just upon the disciples at Pentecost, but this same Spirit also walks with me and you today to guide and inspire us in our Christian pilgrimage.
What does it mean to know we will never be orphaned? What does it mean to know that even in the darkest places that we walk, Jesus is there and that the Holy Spirit dwells within us? Do we live our lives differently as a result of this knowledge?
Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, in his book about his ministry with gangs in Los Angeles, says that he almost always gets asked if he has ever come close to losing his faith. People ask this because he has buried over 220 kids, all killed because of gang violence. These are kids he has loved, and these are kids killed by kids he loved. Boyle says he has never shaken his fist at God. Boyle says: “God was – and is – in the heartbreak and in the insights born of sadness. God was and is in the arms that wrap around our grief. I have felt this every time a kid is gunned down. Such things don’t shake your faith – they shape it.” (Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship) Boyle has never felt orphaned by God, and in his ministry, he wants these young people to know that they too are not orphaned by God, but loved deeply by God.
When we know we are not orphaned, we feel safe and secure, we feel loved and known. And those feelings can empower us to do great things, things we may never have thought possible, even reconciling rival gang members.
During these pandemic days of uncertainty and chaos, loss and pain, our calling is to live knowing we are not orphaned. This truth frees us to love others radically and to be a part of the healing and redeeming work this world desperately needs. Let this be so!
As the great hymn says, “Alleluia! Not as orphans are we left in sorrow now.”
Alleluia! Not as orphans
Are we left in sorrow now.
Alleluia! He is near us;
Faith believes, nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received Him
When the forty days were o’er,
Shall our hearts forget His promise,
“I am with you evermore”?
(W. Chatterton Dix)