The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, the day designated when we remember those men and women who have served our country in the military and made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for our freedom. When soldiers are buried, often the families are presented with a US flag as a way to remember them. How else do we keep their memories alive?
In the book War Letters, author Andrew Carroll’s collection of war correspondence is a lasting tribute to those who died in service. Here’s one excerpt:
On Sept. 11, 1918, Sgt. David Ker, a Columbia University student who had dropped out of college to fight in World War I, sent a letter to his mother the day before the attack on Saint-Mihiel in France. While some troops consider it bad luck to write an “in case I die ...” letter, Ker wanted his mother, his sister (Elizabeth) and his fiancée (Mary) to keep their spirits up, no matter the outcome. He writes:
“Tomorrow the first totally American drive commences, and it gives me inexpressible joy and pride to know that I shall be present to do my share.
Should I go under, therefore, I want you to know that I went without any terror of death, and that my chief worry is the grief my death will bring to those so dear to me.
Since having found myself and Mary, there has been much to make life sweet and glorious, but death, while distasteful, is in no way terrible.
I feel wonderfully strong to do my share well, and, for my sake, you must try to drown your sorrow in the pride and satisfaction, the knowledge that I died well in so clean a cause, as is ours, should bring you. Remember how proud I have always been of your superb pluck, keep Elizabeth’s future in mind, and don’t permit my death to bow your head.
My personal belongings will all be sent to you. Your good taste will tell you which to send to Mary. May God bless and keep you, dear heart, and be kind to little Elizabeth, and those others I love so well. David.
The Americans broke through the German lines but suffered 7,000 casualties in the three-day offensive. Twenty-year-old David Ker was among the dead.
Even if not through war, we have all lost a loved one. And while going through the stuff they left behind is painful, it is also a blessing, because often we find things in which we discover messages that remind us, comfort us, and give us peace. Maybe it is a scarf or hat that still has their scent, maybe a special item they treasured, or a picture of them very much alive. Or a letter with their own words.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus knows that his death is coming and so in essence he writes a letter to his disciples, his brothers and sisters in the faith, with final words of instruction and reassurance.
I am going away...I have said these things to you while I am still with you...
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.
Jesus knows that his disciples will be sad and need reminders of his message and presence and love. Years, centuries later, just like his original disciples, we too need reminders. Jesus knew we would and so he left a gift, a precious gift, a powerful gift, the gift that keeps on giving--the Holy Spirit. And this is no ordinary spirit. The Greek word to describe it is Paraclete. This word has many different meanings: Counselor, Comforter, Companion
Teacher, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor
If you’ve seen a Swiss army knife, you know that has many devices all in one compact tool. It’s not just a knife, but a pair of scissors, can opener, corkscrew, tweezers, file, etc.
The Paraclete Jesus gives is like that. Open up the gift, and find so many different blessings. Why did Jesus give such a gift? Because...
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed a counselor, someone to listen to us, help us with our problems, and guide us to the way to healing.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed a comforter, someone to console and soothe us, to bring relief in the face of trials and sorrows.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed a companion, someone to accompany and be on our side, a helpful friend to be with us always.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed a teacher, someone to instruct and to remind of Jesus’ teachings, to correct and re-direct, to coach and cheer us on.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed a helper, a colleague and collaborator, a partner and teammate, a supporter who believes in us.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed an advocate, someone who publicly stands up for us, pleads on our behalf, provides counsel for our defense, protects us.
Jesus knew that we would have days when we needed an intercessor, someone to intervene on our behalf, to go to God for us, to pray for blessings for us.
No matter who we are, what we encounter in life, this Paraclete will take different forms, depending on what we need at the time. Jesus’ gift is the gift that keeps on giving.
And if that were not enough, Jesus gives one more thing: 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.
This gift completes the Paraclete, so that even when we do not feel Christ with us as a Counselor, Teacher, or Advocate, the Peace of Christ reminds us to not be troubled or afraid, so that we can remember that the peace and presence of Christ are as near as a prayer, even as close as a breath. The peace of Christ gives us something to hold onto.
I have done many funerals over the years, and each one is both a challenge and a blessing. It is difficult to stand with people in the midst of their sorrow, who are often looking to me to provide answers to the hardest questions: Why did she suffer? Why did he die so young? What will we do without him? Will she go to heaven?
Even with a Master of Divinity degree, I do not have a mastery of the divine, and certainly do not have the answers to these questions. What I can do is to give witness to the gospel in which we find promises of our faith, and reassure people that Jesus will be with them as
a Counselor, Comforter, Companion
Teacher, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor
and the peace the world cannot give, the peace we only find in Jesus.
At a recent funeral, I learned that although the person who died did not attend church all that often, she was a believer and lived a good life, blessing all others around her. Her secret? She carried with her a Jesus card. It was a small card on which it had Jesus’ name and a Scripture passage….I think it was this one--do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid.
She carried it with her always--
in good times, Jesus was with her. In bad times (like her divorce), Jesus was with her.
In times of joy (family celebrations), Jesus was with her. In times of sorrow, Jesus was with her.
In health, Jesus was with her. In sickness (like many health challenges), Jesus was with her.
In life, Jesus was with her. And in death, Jesus was with her.
Her sister told me that when she was in the hospital dying, she got out the Jesus card from her wallet and put it in her hand, and told her that Jesus was with her. She died holding onto Jesus.
And even in the casket, I saw that in her hands, she was holding her Jesus card.
Whatever it is, a card, a Scripture passage, a picture, a prayer, a water bead, a cross, have something you can carry with you everyday to remind you of Jesus’ gift of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit that is with us in many different forms, many different ways, to remind us, should we ever forget, that Jesus is with us still, always, reminding us:
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.
May it be so. Amen.