23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Growing up, we often vacationed with my Dad’s side of the family, a group that included his two siblings, their spouses and four other cousins, and while they were living, both of my father’s parents. Looking back on these get-togethers, while I certainly remember the incredible scenery, Southwest Colorado, the mountains of Idaho and Montana, perhaps what sticks with me the most are the stories that were told. Around dinner or playing hearts, a family tradition, I would hear tales of my father’s childhood, my parent’s courtship and even portions of my own young life that I did not, could not remember. This was wonderful stuff, and even better when accompanied by pictures and slides, because really, seeing your parents in 1970s era fashion is a pretty irreplaceable experience. What I gained in those get-togethers was realizing that mine was not a standalone existence. That I had been, and was continuing to be, shaped by those who preceded me, that my own story was dependent on the stories that came before me, stories that were not yet finished. I have no doubt that each of you here could recount for me a similar story about the importance of getting together and hearing who about your own history, or passing your history on to those who come after you. In this telling and hearing stories, in this remembering of who we are, where we come from, we discover our humanity in the best sense. Aristotle, that old philosopher, called humans the rational animal. As true as that is, I cannot help but think that the story-telling animal might be just as accurate.
Like last week, we find the disciples being prepared for Jesus’ departure. Jesus is preparing them for what they will face not just in terms of his gruesome trial and execution, but also when he leaves them to ascend back to the greatness of his Father. And with this exit, there is the looming and realistic fear that the disciples will indeed forget Jesus. There is, I think, for the disciples a real fear about how they will continue without Jesus. What form will the future take if the one person who made the past and present possible is no longer around? Here we find the disciples caught in that very human dilemma about the past and the future, caught trying to envision a future that is radically different from the way the past has operated, precisely because they will be without Jesus, or so they assume. And it seems to me that there is much more at stake here for the disciples than we initially realize. Certainly there is the very real grieving about losing this Jesus whom they have known for three years. That, in and of itself is a major transition. But think about it, how are they to continue as disciples without him? What is a disciple without a teacher after all? And given just how surprising this Jesus ended up being, what with his forgiveness to strangers, his declarations that he is one with the Father, his healings and miracles; it is not like the disciples would have come to any of it of their own intellect or power or philosophy or good intentions. This was all utterly new, which is to say, of course, that it was grace. And so what is at stake for the disciples is not just losing Jesus, but losing themselves as disciples, forgetting not Jesus, but forgetting themselves as his followers and disciples.
The disciples, then, are on the brink of losing their own stories that have made them who they are. They risk being cut off from the one in whom they have found themselves more fully and more alive than they could have ever anticipated. There are no stories, at least not ones told by human mouths alone, that could fill the void for which they are preparing themselves. In a certain sense, I suppose, you could say that the disciples are being asked to keep the family memories alive without ever attending one of those delightful reunions again. I suppose we all can relate to this fear of forgetting and being forgotten. Isn’t that the terror of Alzheimer’s and dementia? As one whose grandfather fell to one of those terrible diseases, it is true that watching someone lose the memories that made that person who he is feels very much like losing that person entirely. And what is true of our general humanity is so much more true of our religious humanity. How very difficult it can be to remember God’s grace and mercy. To remember it for ourselves and to live out of it for others. Left to our own devices, we are something of spiritual amnesiacs I am afraid, prone to forget just who we are in our baptisms at the first opportunity. Such is our lot as those who carry around the sin of our ancestors, stories not being the only thing passed on, incidentally.
And with that fear in mind, both the disciples and our own, we can hear the incredible words of Jesus’ promise afresh: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” It turns out the disciples will not be left alone. Rather, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus, his life, his teachings, indeed his very body now given in bread and wine, all of this will remain with them. It is no longer up to the disciple alone to carry on the message of Christ, a task that they probably weren’t up to anyway if we are telling the truth. For the Spirit, as near to them as their own breath, will be among them and will keep them connected to this Christ, and through this Christ, to the Father, the Lord and Ruler of the universe. It will be the steady and abiding presence of the Spirit, a presence found in the proclamation of Christ and in the distribution of him, and indeed in the community that gathers around him, yes, it will be in all of this that Spirit will keep the disciples connected to their Jesus. It is the Spirit who will keep the memories alive and continue to write those memories on the hearts and minds of the disciples. And what is so extraordinary about this promise is that it is one that extends down through the ages. To the very real fears of our own spiritual forgetfulness, the Holy Spirit continues to proclaim the mercy and forgiveness of Christ in our midst and to our very cores. The Holy Spirit gathers us into the very life that exists between the Father and the Son, and preaches to us that here, here in that life and love is where we truly belong. Here among the widows and orphans and the last and the least here among the saints of all times and in all places, here with here with the whole family of God, we are brought to remember that we too are loved, remembered and forgiven. That we, too, are brought into this family of God not by our own effort or merit or politics or strength or reason, but by the preaching of the Holy Spirit who takes us to the cross and empty tomb. And that here, here in this wide grace and deep memory, God will gather and hold all our moments, will indeed hold and gather us, even as human memory inevitably fails. So come now to the table to meet the Spirit who gives you Christ’s body and blood. Like a child among fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, you are loved more than you can begin to realize. In Jesus’ name, amen.