Finding Buddy

Cats are interesting creatures.  I’m a dog person, but I have a cat compliments of my friend who rescued three barn kittens and somehow talked me into raising one of them.  Lion spends most of his day sleeping, but when he is ready for attention, he plops on my lap.  It’s usually the most inconvenient time:  when I’m officiating Zoom Morning Prayer and his tail swishes in front of my face.

When the cat is done with me, he returns to his lair and more sleeping.  Of course, in the middle of the night, he’s well-rested and ready to prowl through kitchen cupboards, or, at 2 in the morning, he’ll bat a spoon into the kitchen sink…it’s like having Casper the friendly ghost living with you.

The Gospel of John is written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke, yet it bears little similarity to the earlier gospels.  It is the only Gospel that tells us exactly why the author is writing:  In the 20th chapter, the author says the gospel is written, “so that you may come to believe […] and that through believing you may have life…”.[1] 

John teaches us about God’s proximity and God’s companionship—like the way Jesus, the Christ, chooses to come among us and abide with us.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that when he leaves, the Holy Spirit will come among us to be our companion forever.

The conversation takes place on Maundy Thursday.  It is after the dinner…after the foot washing…and it is after Judas goes into the night to put Jesus’ passion into motion.  Jesus’ time is short…he has much to say to us, and very little time to communicate the Mystery that is unfolding…even now.

What he chooses to tell us in that moment is important.  He explains his identity within the trinity.  And then he makes a contract with us that we will see fulfilled on the day of Pentecost:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  [But] you know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Fast-forward 50 days from Easter Day and we arrive at today:  Pentecost.

The disciples have been on an emotional roller coaster.  On Maundy Thursday, Jesus lays out the future.  And then their friend is crucified.  He was gone.  Three days later, while the disciples are gathered together wondering what to do next, Christ rose from the dead and walked among them until the Day of Ascension.  And then, once again, he is gone.

Now the disciples are gathered together…wondering what to do next. 

The text describes an amazing scene:  wind coming into the house where the apostles are hanging out…the entire house fills with the wind.  And all of them were touched by and filled with the Holy Spirit.  They began to speak in other languages…and the people were able to hear in their own, native languages. 

The apostles were waiting for this moment…Christ told them it was coming.  They expected the Holy Spirit…Though they did not know when or how, they were open to this holy moment.

For most of the 30 years I’ve known my friend DJ, he avoided cats.  If he was planning to visit my home, he had to take Benadryl to tolerate his allergy to cat dander.  Even with Benadryl, if he stayed longer than an hour, he felt miserable. 

But a funny thing happened a few years ago.  A feral cat began hanging around DJ’s house…DJ began talking to the cat.  As time went by, the cat would get a bit braver and come a bit closer.  And then DJ did the thing our mothers told us to never do…. he put out food for the cat.  The cat would wait until no humans were around, and then eat the food.

The next thing I knew, DJ had named the cat…her name is Buddy.  Buddy was comfortable with this human and willing to be petted by him.  At a point, Buddy was welcomed into the house…mind you, just the kitchen, and just for dining.  And then Buddy was welcomed into the house for longer and longer periods.  When the weather was cold or rainy, the cat was invited indoors.  During our Zoom Human Flourishing classes, Buddy was usually sleeping on a bed in the background of our zoom session. 

Why did a feral cat, and a person who avoided cats, develop companionship?

On that first Pentecost, many people were amazed by the apostles who were speaking in languages but being understood in other languages.  I love hearing Dn Ayo proclaim the Gospel in his native language…as I try to follow along in English.  What a gift to us.  The folks listening to the apostles were curious and wanted to understand what was happening.

Yet, just as Jesus warned, there were others who were not open to the Spirit…and who saw the work of the Holy Spirit and said, “Those dudes are drunk.”  They were not prepared to see or receive the gift of God’s companionship.

Dr. Wil Gafney, an Episcopal priest and scholar at Brite Divinity, wrote, “Each of the [lectionary] texts speak[s] of the companioning of God but not always in the way or with the results that persons may wish.  While we might affirm the presence of God in all times, in all places, and with all persons, that does not preclude suffering, sorrow, or loss.”[2]

We see that truth in the life of Jesus, the Son of God…crucified.  We see that truth in the emotional roller coaster of the apostles– and we know most of them were martyred.  Our engagement with Harry Potter during last year’s Christian Formation was all about understanding God’s presence and agency in the midst of human suffering.  Holy Companionship is God’s agency in our world … in our time.  And we have a role.

It is the calling of the Church to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  We do this by praying together, worshipping together, working toward justice, and peace, and loving others as Christ loved us.  That, in a nutshell, is Christian discipleship. 

Jesus and the apostles lived in a violent world.  We live in a violent world.  Mass murders in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa…flood our news one after the other.  There is hardly time to absorb one event before the next one.

Faithful people respond to that kind of suffering and loss with prayer and lament…like the litany we read last week; it is our way of saying, “Come Holy Spirit…walk with me…abide in me”.  We are not just asking for a companion to keep us company.  We are asking for a Holy Companion to equip us to love our neighbor as ourselves….to participate in this broken world as disciples of Christ.

The world may believe that investing in a bigger moat, a taller fence, or a more sophisticated security system will deliver safety from the violence of our world.  But our Morning Prayer intercessions read…and they have read thus for generations:  Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in Safety.

The Gospel of John invites us to belief…to live with Faith, Hope, and Love…to walk through this life with a Holy Companion who meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us[3] … to have abundant, everlasting life. 

The Holy Spirit is here, among us.  Like Lion and Buddy, we are free to choose relationship when we are ready and open to it.  But for us, this companionship is with God.  God is always waiting, open to us. 

May the companionship of the Holy and undivided Trinity be known to us in the breaking of the bread.

[1] John 20: 31 et al

[2] Wilda C Gafney; A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church; p242

[3] Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies), paraphrased.