Preparing to go away is challenging. Whether you are preparing for a move across the country, or a holiday from which you will return in two weeks, there is always so much to do, so many things to be done, so that your departure can be as smooth as possible. Preparing others for your departure is another thing altogether.
I remember a scene from a movie called “All About Schmidt.” Jack Nicholson played the lead character, Warren Schmidt. Warren is preparing to retire from a career as an actuary in an insurance company. He cleans out his desk and his file cabinets. He organizes and categorizes his life’s work into file boxes and then leaves it with the younger man who will replace him. He doesn’t just leave the boxes; he also endeavours to leave his wisdom in the form of advice and explanations. Finally, he exits the building which has been his workplace home for so many years. You can read his feelings on his face. Feelings of worry about what he has left behind and how his hard work will continue in the hands of others. There are also feelings of anxiousness about what lies ahead. When one’s whole identity is wrapped up in career, and the career ends, suddenly one is faced with a very frightening question: “who am I?”
As Warren walks down the street, he comes to the alley at the end of the office building. Garbage dumpsters are visible, and sitting on the top of the garbage, also very visible, are the file boxes that he so meticulously prepared for his successor. This darkly humoured movie continues with an exploration of the pain, and grief, and eventual hope to be found as we transition from one part of life to another.
I’m not completely sure why I think of this story when I read today’s Gospel passage. Perhaps its because if Jesus had been anybody else, this could have been his story too. Consider how much time and effort Jesus put into preparing his disciples for his departure. We know that they didn’t always understand. It would have been so easy for them to leave all his hard work on the dumpster after he had gone simply because they lacked the ability to make sense of it. They could easily have been convinced to go in new directions by those among them that thought they had better plans. Now that Jesus was gone, they would have an opportunity to prove themselves.
However, this isn’t what happened. The disciples, although bereaved and confused, stayed the course. How could that be? Well, the truth is that Jesus is that never really left them. He had prepared his disciples for something more of a transition than a departure. The same friend that he promised he would send was the same friend they had known all along, since the time that they had started following Jesus. He reminds them of the relationship they have had all along and promises to make it continue. He is in his Father and his Father is in him, and because of that he is in us, and us in him, and we are in him when we do as he commands… love. It is love that will sustain the relationships of the disciples to each other, and love which will keep them in a living relationship with God, through Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
We tend to think that we have a hard time with change and that makes transition difficult. In reality, we deal with change and transition all the time. We’re actually pretty good at it. The hard part is dealing with loss. That is what is beautiful about the way that Jesus prepares his friends for his departure. He assures them that they are not really losing him; he will be as present as he has always been. God’s promise to Moses in the wilderness was, “my presence will go with you,” and as Jesus promises his friends that he will not leave them orphaned, God’s presence continues to go with them. In this life, we will experience loss, and we will grieve, but as followers of Jesus, we never grieve alone. The Advocate, is in us. God’s presence goes with us.