Jesus can be notable to us by his physical absence. How do we enjoy something or someone we can’t see, hear, or touch?
In John 14 v 9 Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” But we haven’t seen Jesus. So how can we encounter him? Jesus’ solution is, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” Jesus is the first advocate, and the Spirit replaces him now that Jesus has ascended to heaven as the second advocate. Just as the disciples looked to Jesus when they were panicked or being questioned by the authorities. We too can look to the Spirit as an advocate.
So when we are flustered or panicked, we can tell ourselves, “it’s OK, the Spirit is with me as a strengthener.” When someone asks you a hard question about your faith, you can tell yourself, “it’s OK, the Spirit is with me. He will testify as I speak. I don’t need to convict and convince. That’s the Spirit’s job.” Just as it was Jesus’ job for the disciples.
The presence of Jesus
But the Spirit is more than a replacement for Jesus. If we read John 14 v 18-21 carefully we see that not only will God send the Holy Spirit but that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you.” But he also says, “I will be in you.” He says, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
The coming of the Spirit is the coming of Jesus. Jesus is physically gone but you can have an encounter with him. You can meet him, hear him, know him, and enjoy him. He is literally “with us in Spirit”.
Remember that God is one being. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. There are 2 advocates because the Holy Spirit is the second advocate. But there is also only 1 advocate because Jesus himself is our strengthener and helper through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a person, not an “it”. At the same time, we really do hear the voice of Christ, not just his representative.
Meeting Jesus around the table
How can we physically relate to Christ? The Lord’s supper is often described as “communion” – a participation with Christ. The Lord’s supper is designed to be a relational act between ourselves and Jesus.
We know from experience that meals are often a relational experience. We enjoy receiving an invitation to a meal because we know that it’s not just an invitation for food. It’s also an invitation into a relationship, into a friendship. Communion is an invitation to friendship with Christ: an invitation to enjoy and experience Christ’s presence.
Christ is not physically present at communion. Instead he is spiritually present through the Holy Spirit. He is there to reassure us of his love, his protection, his commitment. The Spirit is always with us but the bread and wine are physical signs of that presence. Jesus’ love for us becomes tangible in that moment and Christ comes close to us.
Consider a wife who’s had an argument with her husband or let him down in some way. What does she want? She wants him to take her in his arms and tell her that he loves her. And perhaps she needs both the physical touch and the reassuring words. Touch without words or words with touch could feel superficial, hesitant, as if he’s still withholding his affection. And so it is that Jesus gives us both words and touch.
Think back to the last time you received communion. As we take communion together, earth and heaven connect. Through the Spirit, the communion meal is a kind of gateway or portal to heaven. The Spirit connects us with Christ. He brings us into the presence of Christ.
This is what you have to see in your imagination with the eyes of faith. By “imagine” I don’t mean “pretend”, as if this is not real. I mean to see by faith the spiritual reality that is taking place. The table is Christ’s table and he welcomes us to eat with him at his table.
- Think back over the last week. Was there a moment when you felt the need for an advocate, strengthener, witness, or helper?
- What difference would it have made to look over your shoulder and see (with the eyes of faith) Jesus present with you by the Spirit?
- How do you view communion? How could you approach it so that it has more meaning for you?
- Think of a time when a loving touch – a hug, kiss, or holding hands – has meant a lot to you. What difference would it make if you viewed communion as a loving touch from Jesus?
When you take communion, imagine receiving the bread and wine as if from the hands of Jesus, as a sign of his love.