Professor Karoline Lewis writes about the experience of a friend who recently returned from a pastors’ gathering. This event was a time for colleagues in ministry to learn from one another, to support one another, to encourage one another. But — for Lewis’ friend — it was too much. You see, this woman is grieving; her husband died a year-and-a-half ago at the age of 43. And, during the gathering, she found herself having to recount the story of his death over and over and over again. She cried a lot. She thought about packing her things and going home early.
After one of the sessions, she went outside to sit on a bench. And a woman whom she didn’t really know came over and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Just sit with me,” Lewis’ friend responded.
And, so, this fellow pastor did. She didn’t speak. She didn’t reach out to grab her grieving colleague’s hand. She just sat down. And stayed.
Just sit with me. Sometimes, it’s the thing we most need. When we’re sitting with heartache, or confusion, or worry, or fear. We just need another to come alongside us. To sit down and stay.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jesus knew this. Which is why he promised an Advocate. Another advocate. Someone who would come alongside the disciples to fill the gaping void left by his departure.
Today’s passage comes from Jesus’ ‘farewell address.’ We have jumped backwards in the Gospel of John … before the resurrection, before the crucifixion, before the arrest of Jesus. Today the lectionary sets before us words uttered on a long ago night during Jesus’ final meal with his friends. He has just washed the feet of his disciples; he has just shared the bread and cup. And, now, Jesus is telling his friends goodbye.
“Little Children, I am with you only a little longer …” Jesus begins (John 13:33). And, then, he tells them everything they need to know to continue his ministry without him. The disciples aren’t ready to hear this; they’re anxious, confused, overcome with anticipatory grief. They’re not ready to bid Jesus ‘farewell.’
Preacher Fred Craddock likens this scene to the moment children realize their parents are leaving home without them. Like kids who are playing on the floor when they look up to find their grown-ups putting on coats and hats, the disciples have questions: Where are you going? Can we come? Then who is going to stay with us?
We are so used to reading the Farewell Discourse through the lens of Resurrection that we sometimes diminish the depth of sorrow that permeates this scene … the grief that settles over Jesus’ friends as they begin to fathom the unfathomable: soon they will be left alone.
I imagine the disciples are feeling like the little boy in a sculpture my father made following the death of his parents. In this piece, a couple gracefully pushes away from earth. The man — in front — gazes ahead. But the woman looks back at the little boy who is clinging to her clothes — trying desperately to hold on, terrified of being left behind. It’s a bronze casting, but the little boy’s anguish is palpable.
Like us, Jesus knows that resurrection is ahead; he knows reunion lies ahead. But he does not dismiss the disciples’ sorrow. He does not say, “Wait a few days; all will be well.” Instead, Jesus offers his friends the grace they need at this moment. He offers them words of assurance: 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.
He will give you another Advocate — someone who will come alongside, someone who will sit down and stay. This, in fact, is what John’s particular name for the Holy Spirit means. According to the Evangelist, Jesus promises the Paraclete — literally, one who is called alongside. Your pew Bible renders this Greek word as “Advocate.” Other words would work, too: Helper. Companion. Comforter. Intercessor. All of these are accurate. None of them alone are up to the task of describing who this Spirit is. If we want to understand the character of the Paraclete, we must consider who Jesus is. After all, as our text tells us, the Spirit is another Advocate. Jesus is the first …
Jesus — the One who dwelled with the Creator from the dawn of time, then became flesh and lived among us. The One who was sent into the world so that we might know the fullness of God’s grace, the nearness of God’s presence. This is the Companion who sat beside a woman of Samaria and offered living water and — with it — the gift of eternal life; this is the Helper who kneeled before thousands of famished souls on a mountain in Galilee and offered each one the Bread of Life to satisfy every hunger. This is the Good Shepherd — the One who calls us each by name and beckons us into the joy of abundant life. All because of love. Because God loves the world enough to call the Son alongside us, so that we — too — might become children of God.
And this God will not leave us orphaned. Jesus will not leave us orphaned: 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.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus tells his disciples. The promise of the Paraclete seems to be wrapped up in this charge to be faithful. Which is a bit surprising, because John’s Jesus is not given to ethical exhortation. Unlike, say, Matthew — in which Jesus commands his disciples to turn the other cheek and go an extra mile and render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s — the Gospel of John records only one commandment. Jesus utters it at the beginning of the Farewell Discourse, right after he washes the feet of his friends: I give you a new commandment, Jesus says, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).
Now, it might seem odd that Jesus calls this commandment new since the charge to love is actually quite old. After all, the first books of the First Testament command us to love God with heart, soul and might (Deut 6:5) and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18). But, as far as I can tell, what makes this commandment new is not so much the instruction to love as the revelation of love. The embodiment of love. The ability to experience God’s love in human form through one who is called alongside us. Just as I have loved you — Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
This is the love of friends who kneel to wash each other’s feet … to serve with generosity and care and — the “and” is important! — and to receive this act with humility and grace. It is the love between a rabbi and his disciples gathered to dip bread together at a Passover table. And it is the love shared between a parent and child.
It might sound cliché — trite, even — just a nod to Mothers’ Day. But this is one of the main ways John illustrates divine love. We see it throughout the Gospel in the love shared between God the Parent and God the Son. And we see it in the love shared between Jesus and his friends — the ones he calls “Little Children.” Just as John tells us that Jesus is “close to the Father’s heart” (John 1:18), so John shows us that the disciples are equally close to Jesus. Even here, as friends gather for a final meal, John tells us that one of the disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — reclines next to him. More accurately, he reclines against Jesus’ bosom — the exact way a child would rest against her mother, seeking comfort, seeking care. This is a love that can only be shared because Jesus has been called alongside us as an Advocate, a Helper, a Companion.
This is what the disciples fear losing as Jesus prepares them for his departure. They fear losing this profound experience of love; they fear losing intimacy with God. But — Jesus now assures them — he will not leave them orphaned. He will not leave us orphaned: If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus says. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
Jesus promises the presence of another Advocate whom — like Jesus — God will call alongside us. This is the Holy Spirit who will abide with us and in us. This is the one who will stay with us when Jesus returns to God the Parent and into eternity …
I don’t think it’s an accident that this promise of the Paraclete is wrapped up in Jesus’ commandment to love. Because — just as the disciples have experienced the presence of God through the love of Jesus, they will experience the presence of Jesus through the love they share with each other. We will experience the presence of Jesus through the love we share with each other. The Spirit makes this possible — helping us love one another just as Christ loves us, helping us feel the presence of God in the joy of human love: brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above … (For the Beauty of the Earth, GTG #14, vs. 4). Through expressions of love — big and small, simple and profound — the Spirit is there. Yes, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Companion abides with and in and among us, drawing us into the presence of God.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This may be most clear in the moments when a companion comes alongside someone who is sitting with heartache or confusion, worry or fear …
Companions like Roger … You’ve heard me talk about Kate Bowler more than once from this pulpit. She is the professor at Duke who has written memoirs and books of blessings since being diagnosed with stage IV cancer at age 35. Roger is one of the people who features in Kate’s story. Before her diagnosis, Roger was barely more than an acquaintance; he was the librarian at the divinity school library, so she would interact with him briefly at meetings or as she went about her research. But the moment Kate got sick, Roger showed up. During the many months Kate was participating in a clinical trial out-of-state, Roger would pick her up every Wednesday morning — before the sun came up — and drive her to the airport. “Don’t worry about talking if you’re tired,” he’d say, “Just lay the seat back. You’ve got a long day.”
Or companions like the person I heard described on a recent podcast about the opioid epidemic. The podcast was full of grim statistics and heartbreaking news. But, then, the host shared a story of hope that came from a listener. She told of a beloved family member who was in the throes of addiction for years. No one in the family could get through to this person, to convince him to accept treatment. But then, an acquaintance — someone with a tenuous connection at best — showed up. He left work for months so that he could accompany his friend to treatment, so that he could be there to offer support and encouragement. And that made all the difference. That’s how the person who’d been struggling with addiction got through treatment.
Companions like the neighbor of poet Maggie Smith. In a recently published memoir that chronicles the aftermath of a painful divorce, Smith writes of the first Christmas she spent by herself. Her children were celebrating with her ex-husband. So, to pass the time, she went for a run around her neighborhood. Soon after she got back to her house, there was a knock at the door. Maggie opened it to find one of her neighbors standing there with cake. “I just saw you run by my house,” she said. “And I remember that this is your first Christmas without your kids on Christmas morning. And I remember having that experience the first Christmas after my divorce. So here is some cake.”
And companions like the fellow pastor, who asked if there was anything she could do for the grieving woman sitting outside on a bench. And, then, who sat down and stayed.
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. When we keep Jesus’ commandment — when we love one another just as Christ has loved us — we discover that God is there. The Advocate, who has been called alongside us, continues to abide with and in and among us. And, through expressions of love — big and small, simple and profound — the Spirit draws us ever-more closely into the presence of God.
Gracious God, who cares for us like a wise and loving parent, we pause to celebrate and honor those who have taken up the mantle of motherhood – both those who nurtured us during their lives but are now in your heavenly kingdom, and those who carry out this vital calling today.
We give thanks for mothers whose love knows no bounds – for selfless sacrifices, postponed desires, and surrendered dreams for the sake of their children.
We are grateful for the discipline they provided even when we did not understand or appreciate its importance.
We are thankful for the healing power in their hugs, the reassuring protection upon which we depended, their patience when we were exasperating, their guidance when we were adrift, their forgiveness when we were off the mark, and their unwavering support that assured us we were loved and appreciated and worthy.
We pray that each mother may know the importance of her work in helping to shape the future of her child. Even when results are not apparent and even when children are grown adults, mothers can provide a model of a compassionate, generous, fair, humble, self-disciplined, and honest human being.
Mighty God, we pray for mothers who struggle with the demands of the day, for those who cannot abide another sleepless night, for those who feel they are cracking under the stress, for those who question their competence, and for those who feel they are not supported in their efforts. Motherhood can be such an awesome responsibility and an overwhelming endeavor that many may believe they are not up to the challenge. God, buoy them with confidence and resolve, and infuse them with love and wisdom so that they may perform their indispensable job.
Loving God, we rejoice with those who have given birth to, or adopted a child this year, and we weep with those who have lost a child.
We pray for those who have been cut off from their children that they may have an empathetic friend who will carry part of the burden.
We pray for those who were abused by their mother, that they may discover loving relationships that help to erase the scars inflicted by a disturbed soul.
We pray for those who must be both mother and father to their children.
Eternal God, we give thanks:
for stepmothers, who successfully navigate the challenging terrain they must traverse;
for aunts and grandmothers who generously bestow love and guidance;
for surrogate mothers who provide a blessing for couples;
and for foster mothers who provide love and support for children who need a capable and caring parent.
God of love, we rejoice with all mothers who enjoy beautiful bonds with their children; may they know in their souls that they are successfully fulfilling one of the most important jobs in the world by nurturing, guiding, disciplining, and encouraging the next generation.
And may those of us who were raised by wonderful mothers express our gratitude for a blessing that continues to grace us throughout our lives. Now, hear us as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray together, saying, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
 Karoline Lewis, “Just Sit with Me,” Dear Working Preacher (May 7, 2023), workingpreacher.org.
 As referenced in: Frances Taylor Gench, Encounters with Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 106.
 Jaime Clark-Soles, “Commentary on John 14:15-21,” workingpreacher.org.
 Interestingly, the Greek word the NRSV translates as “heart” can also be translated as “bosom.” See: Karoline M. Lewis, John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 22.
 Kate Bowler, Twitter Thread (February 26, 2020).
 Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, hosts, “Opioids in America, Part 2,” Pantsuit Politics (podcast), April 21, 2023, https://www.pantsuitpoliticsshow.com/show-archives/2023/4/21/opioids-in-america-part-2
 Kate Bowler, host, “This Place Could be Beautiful, Right? with Maggie Smith,” Everything Happens (podcast), Season 10 | Episode 09, https://katebowler.com/podcasts/this-place-could-be-beautiful-right/
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only the Prayer Ministry Team receives this information.
We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only a pastor receives this information.