“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you,” from the Gospel according to St. John.
St. John uses the word Counselor for the Holy Spirit in this translation. The Greek word is παρακλητοs, (para-clay-tos) which means someone you can call to you. Another translation is Advocate, which in modern terms, is one word for an attorney who speaks for his client in a court of law. The word comes from the Latin, advocāre, meaning, to call to one’s aid. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit is one whom you can call to your aid, who gives you counsel. Sometimes you hear the word Comforter. This is from the Latin which means one who gives you strength in time of need.
So who is this Holy Spirit? Our doctrine of the Holy Trinity states that we believe in God in Three Persons; The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we call on God in our worship, we do so in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In the Nicene Creed, we say,
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.”
Our best chance at understanding comes from the Bible. Let’s look at Genesis, chapter 1.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Now we have God, and the Spirit of God. In verse 26, we read, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” Instead of using the word “me,” we see the word “us.” God is surely not talking to himself. In chapter 6 of Genesis, we hear about the Spirit again; “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
In the book of Judges, we read about how the people of Israel had become very disobedient, and had forgotten all that the Lord God had done for them. The Lord raised up judges to guide them, and as long as a judge lived, the people obeyed, but when the judge died, the people returned to their corruption. In chapter 3, we read about how the people had been oppressed by their enemies for a long time, and they began to cry out to the Lord. The Lord raised up Othneil, and in verse 10, we read, “The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge …” From these passages we learn that the Spirit of God, also called the Holy Spirit, is the person who comes to the earth and interacts with people and all of creation.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we read, when the angel tells Mary that she will bear Jesus, “Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Here, the Holy Spirit is interacting with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 3, we read about the baptism of Jesus. Verse 16 reads, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Here, the Holy Spirit is interacting with the man, Jesus.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 12, we read that Jesus was healing the sick, and some of those watching said he was doing it by the power of the devil. Jesus’ reaction to this was harsh. He said, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Of all of the abuse hurled at him, this was the only time that Jesus reacted so strongly. He said it’s ok to say bad thing things about me, but not about the Holy Spirit. God is not so forgiving of this.
We can learn from this that the Holy Spirit is on equal footing with Jesus, the Son of God. In the passage from Genesis, we learned that the Holy Spirit is on equal footing with God the Father. In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling his disciples,
“… the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The disciples must have been very afraid to learn that Jesus was leaving them. They had given up everything to follow him, and he had told them he was leaving, and they could not go with him. He reassured them that even though he was leaving, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to stay with them and give them the power to carry on with the Good News. On the day of Pentecost, that is, 50 days after the Resurrection, we will celebrate the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and gave them power to preach and teach in the Name of Jesus. Here, the Holy Spirit is interacting with the Apostles.
You, too, have the Holy Spirit with you to give you strength and comfort. You were baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You were anointed with the Holy Spirit at your baptism, and the bishop anointed you with the Holy Spirit at your Confirmation. That means that the Holy Spirit is with you always, leading and guiding you, and giving you the peace of the Lord. The Holy Spirit wants to interact with you. It is only up to you to accept his counsel and comfort. Nothing is forced on you. To claim that power, you can call on the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, to care for you, and for others, too. Don’t let all that power go to waste!