S. Pentecost Day.16 “Let Us Go From Here…” John 14:23-31

We often think that our second reading today from Acts tells the story of the first Pentecost, the Advent of the Holy Spirit. But it doesn’t, actually—popular as that story is. The real Advent of the Holy Spirit is in our Gospel lesson today (which is why real Lutherans always preach on the Gospel, because it really is the key unlocking everything real). Of course, the Holy Spirit has been with us literally from the beginning, from the very first verses of Genesis, hovering over the face of the waters. And Pentecost is a very old festival, 50 days after Passover first celebrated by Moses and Israel in the desert coming out of Egypt.

But Pentecost in the New Testament sense, the coming of the Holy Spirit to bring to our remembrance all things that Jesus says to us—that happens here, in the Gospel. Or to be more precise, Jesus promises and describes the Gift of the Holy Spirit in our Gospel from John this morning. The real descent of the Holy Spirit to enlighten and sanctify Christ’s Church happened a few hours after Jesus spoke these words, when He was lifted up on the cross on Good Friday—that’s when the Holy Spirit descends, powerfully, to unite us with Christ Jesus.

We sometimes think that the cross is past history, that Easter and Pentecost are about moving on from the cross to happier and more cheerful things. But not at all. Real Christians never move past the cross. St. Paul was determined even 25 years on as an apostle to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified.” Luther well says: “the cross alone is our theology”. All the good gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are given by Jesus in and through His cross. Sharing His sufferings, denying ourselves, taking up the cross, losing our old lives and following Jesus down this dark path is the only way we gain His life and light. And there is simply no other way that gets you there…

Easter and Pentecost are not a forgetting of, or a moving past the cross of Christ; no, to the contrary, they are simply the unfolding of all the mysteries and wonder that are there for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. When Jesus opened the minds of the disciples (as we heard last week) to understand the Scriptures, it was the necessity of His suffering and death that was key. It’s always the cross that unlocks the mysteries of heaven, for them, for us. The coming of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day in 30 AD was simply a slow motion replay of the descent of the Spirit as Christ ascended the cross, so we could see it more clearly, comprehend it better. Because it happened fast on Good Friday: life out of death, heaven conquering hell, God and humanity reconciled, the Holy Spirit filling us with new life—and, because it was so dark from noon to three, it was tough to see. So God rewinds, replays for us…

Before it happens, Jesus describes it fully in the Garden of Gethsemane (which is where we are at in our Gospel this morning, with Jesus in the Garden on the night He was betrayed, just minutes before Judas shows up with the crowd and the goon squad) what will happen on the cross, how the Spirit will be given to us there and then, what it all means, how He will help.

The first thing to know vis a vis the Holy Spirit is that while Jesus goes away out of sight for a while, the Holy Spirit fills that void in our lives. Because Jesus is going away and coming back. He will no longer talk much with us, because the ruler of this world has his little season, and having nothing in Jesus, Jesus has nothing to say about that. He says everything that needs saying on the cross.

And this is what the Holy Spirit does—He simply brings to our remembrance everything Jesus says to us. Especially the things of the cross, because now, for a little while, we share in those sufferings ourselves, in order to share more fully and more wonderfully in His exaltation and ascension. Without entering into the darkness of Good Friday, without spending a little time in the tomb with Him, there is no real sharing in the Mystery of His Kingdom. No crown without the cross, as the early Christians liked to say…

And while it may seem we are alone in this, as Jesus also cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me!?” we are never alone! The Father and the Son are nowhere more powerfully present than in the suffering and darkness of the cross. And the Holy Spirit, the Helper, takes center stage in this dark time, not to point to Himself, because He is the shy, retiring one, the most publicity averse of the Holy Trinity. He is happy simply to be transparent, like the wind, heard but not seen, pointing only to Jesus, bringing to our remembrance all things that He says to us…

This is not how the world gives peace—but it is how Jesus does it! The world is at peace only when we are fat, dumb, and happy. Jesus gives peace in the midst of suffering and dying, when things are at their worst, He is at His best. It’s easy to feel happy when things go well. The secret and joy of Christianity is that finding peace and joy in the midst of disaster, right in the midst of losing our very lives with Christ—in the darkness of the cross, the Light shines brightest.

This is what the Holy Spirit teaches us; these are the words of our Lord He is always reminding us of—that His peace is different [and infinitely better!] than the world’s—almost opposite the world’s kind of peace, really. But it is our right, our privilege as Christians not to be troubled in the midst of chaos, not to be afraid when everything is going wrong, but to look up and lift up our heads, even when we’re severely tested, knowing our redemption draws near. It’s really a pretty cool way to live…

Which is why we do confirmation today. The Holy Spirit is all about confirming us in this mysterious, delightful, paradoxical Faith—even when we test poorly. Because Jesus has passed the test for us; so the Holy Spirit shines for us most brightly in the darkness of His cross. Every day is Good Friday in the church (and Easter and Pentecost because they are all, really, the same Day)!

One last thing: the catechesis that our confirmands have completed has a lot of teaching in it, and a little testing (which sometimes can get a little testy). But notice this in our Gospel: it’s not that we first grasp these words and teachings and concepts of Christ, and then we love Him and so follow Him. No! Jesus has it the other way around. First we love Him, drawn to Him by the cross, then we keep His Word. Or as St. Augustine well said: “we believe in order to understand”…

And why do we love Him? Why would we confirm ourselves as His, today? Well, simply because He first loved us, as John says! The love that makes the Shepherd take on the sheep’s lot, enter our darkness and rescue us by suffering, dying, being the Lamb of God slain in our place—once that is glimpsed, it’s pretty hard not to have that love start seeping into every corner of our dark hearts, bringing light for the first time. To see Him like this, for us, well, how can you not love it, love Him?

But tomorrow is another Monday. So we arise, and go from here. But we go led by His Spirit, ever walking with Jesus; and Peace, surpassing understanding, guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.