“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (Jn. 16:7)
We have just celebrated the Ascension of Jesus ten days ago, and today we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit. But I think it’s easy for these parts of the gospel to be overlooked, even sort of resented by us. How can we celebrate Jesus leaving? And sure, the Spirit is great and all, but we can’t really see the Spirit. We can’t talk to the Spirit quite so directly as the disciples could speak with Jesus. Christmas is wonderful because that is when God appeared to us in human flesh, and Easter is even more wonderful because God overcame death and sin and evil and came back to us in the flesh. And if we had it our way, we would want the story to just stop there. Why couldn’t Jesus just stay here on earth, all resurrected and glorious?
Once when my son and I were talking, he pointed out that it was rather strange that we serve a King that we can’t see. And this is true. It’s true that we can’t see Jesus, and it’s true that this is strange. This is underlined even more starkly at this table. Maybe we don’t think about it consciously, but this is the Lord’s table, the table of the Lord Jesus, and we can’t see Him. He invites us to eat with Him every week, and the dinner host is invisible. If we think about too much, it could be rather depressing or upsetting. It could even cast doubts in our mind about what we’re doing, what we believe. But Jesus says that it is better for Him to go away. It’s better for Jesus to leave so that the Spirit will come. Jesus tells his disciples that this is one of the reasons why He is leaving them. He is departing so that he can send the Spirit to them. Jesus is not here so that the Spirit can be. That almost seems more strange. Why can’t Jesus and the Spirit both be here? The Spirit came down on Jesus at His baptism. They were both here then. Why is it better for Jesus to be in heaven while the Spirit is here with us on earth?
Part of the point seems to be that Jesus wants us to be like Him. When Jesus walked this earth, He had to walk in the power of the Spirit and obey His Father. The Spirit led Jesus, and Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered. Likewise, we must learn to walk in the Spirit obey the Father so we might learn obedience as sons in the Son.
But if this setup is better, this means that it is better at least for the present for us to gather around this table in faith than for Jesus to appear bodily in front of us. It is better for us to be fed with Jesus through this bread and wine than to have Jesus sitting here with us in His human flesh. And this really is comforting. This way is better. So come eat, drink, and rejoice in the Spirit who knits us together through the body and blood of our risen King.