It is deeply embedded in my family story, the experience of being ‘orphaned.’ Perhaps in one way or another it is part of all of our stories.
This is how it was.
My dad’s dad died suddenly when he was five.
What made the loss particularly poignant was that no one told him.
No, instead, this child along with his younger brother, were only told that their dad had gone away.
Indeed, he learned on the playground from another child that the place where his dad had ‘gone’ was to a cemetery on a hill.
It was the Great Depression, and their mother was left to provide for those children on her own, so she found a job and the boys were left to fend for themselves when she was at work. They were fortunate that it was a small town and no doubt there were many who looked after them. Even so, my dad would tell you that he had no childhood memories until after he was eight when his mother remarried. When he later recounted this, he always said that was when security returned to their home. It was only then that it was safe to remember.
- So no, he was not technically ‘orphaned’ as he still had a living parent.
- Even so, that experience of being ‘orphaned’ was one that left him vulnerable: body, mind and soul.
- And it was one which shaped him for the rest of his life.
I will never fully know what my dad experienced when he was far too young to sort through its meaning, although you and I have surely experienced being ‘orphaned’ in other ways. Indeed, as we approach Mother’s Day this year, I am reminded that I now know what it is to be without parents physically in the world. I have heard others refer to this experience, regardless of one’s age, as that of being ‘orphaned.’ And while one may be entirely capable of fending for oneself in the world, it is so that the experience of burying one’s parents can leave one feeling unmoored, needing to sort out meaning and identity and perhaps even sense of purpose in new ways.
One is changed by being ‘orphaned,’ to be sure. Some of those changes can be experienced as akin to trauma.
And it is precisely that which Jesus promises his followers they will never, ever have to know.
- Even before the betrayal and the denial and the suffering which would mark his last hours.
- Even before his death and resurrection.
- Indeed, even before it would be time for him to ‘leave them,’ here in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus telling them and us that kind of abandonment will never, ever be theirs, be ours.
For the Advocate, the promised Holy Spirit, would be walking alongside them in and through all that was yet to come. Including in and through those ways one finds oneself experiencing what it is to be ‘orphaned’ in and by the world.
- Indeed, this Advocate is present with us and for us to remind us of our immeasurable value when the world forgets.
- It walks alongside, urging us to remember our place in the midst of all that God has made and of our calling to stand alongside with and for those whom the world would deem unworthy, ‘orphaned,’ but whom God loves so very dearly.
- It is the voice of Truth which sings in our hearts which always lands on the side of healing and forgiveness and unending hope in God’s preferred future for us and the whole created world.
And yes, it is more than memory of who Jesus was when he lived as one of us, subject to all the joy and all the cruelty and all the struggle and all the hope which makes up the lives of any and all who live in this world. It is more than something like a collection of images remembered, and stories told over and over, and words strung together which we repeat, quoting ones we love and in these small ways, keeping their memories alive. It is, perhaps, something akin to our very DNA which is passed down to us in the sounds of our voices and in the pattern in which one’s hair grays and in the shape of our fingernails. Not just in our minds, but in our very beings.
Only it is even something so much more than that. For is not finally in how we look or sound, but this has bearing on who and how we are in the world. No, it is not fully in where we come from at all, except that we each one come from the heart of God. Rather, it is to be marked as those seek to keep the commandment to love God and love our neighbor. Indeed, to be named and claimed by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit promised now, is to be called into a new way of being in the world and in this way experiencing belonging and security and purpose far beyond even what those who first welcomed us into this world here could ever give us.
For the promise today is that we will not be left ‘orphaned’ in ways far greater than we even know to ask for ourselves.
- All we have to do is receive it.
- And keep wondering at what it is to live into this identity of ‘not being orphaned’ which has been given to us.
- And to rejoice in it, give thanks in it, and ask that we might hear that voice of Truth always walking alongside, ever more fully, especially when we forget what it sounds like.
- What experiences of being ‘orphaned’ help you to more fully understand the promise Jesus makes today? What experiences do the people with whom you live and work and serve bring to their hearing of the Good News this week?
- How do you find yourself thinking about the promised “Advocate” today? What metaphors help you to understand it, to receive it, to experience it?
- When the world ‘orphans you,’ as it surely will again and again, what does it mean to you that Jesus has promised this Advocate to walk alongside you, ‘to be with you forever?’