About once a month or so over morning coffee, I zoom with a former student who is now one of my dear friends. We exchange weightlifting goals and successes. We talk about the church and its joys and challenges. And since her husband died in September 2021 at the age of 43 and then my dad’s death in September 2022, a lot of our conversations have been about grief. Especially how really bad we all are when it comes to grief. Bad at talking about it. Bad at acknowledging it. Bad at being patient with it. We intelligize grief. We competify grief. We expect grief to unfold in certain ways and on a determined timeline. We offer well-meaning advice or banalities, too often for the sake of self preservation.
During our coffee date this week, my friend shared her experience of being at her synod’s Bishop’s Convocation. A time for sharing and learning with pastoral colleagues. A time for support and encouragement. But for my friend, too many times when she was asked to tell her story. And no one should expect you to tell your story if you are not ready.
She cried a lot. She thought about going home. After one of the sessions, she went outside to sit on a bench. A woman whom she didn’t really know came over to her and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” My friend responded, “Just sit with me.” And the fellow pastor did. No words. No touching. Just sitting.
And there it was—my “Dear Working Preacher” column. Because “just sit with me” is the very essence of the Johannine Spirit. Our advocate. Our aide. Our intercessor. Our guide. Our companion. The one to whom we can say, “Just sit with me.” Because that is exactly what paraclete means—the one who comes alongside you. It’s not an accident that the Paraclete’s presence is promised in the Farewell Discourse. Hearts are troubled. Anxious questions are asked. Fear is palpable. But Jesus does not respond with explanations or easy answers. In the midst of grief unexplainable, unknowable, unimaginable, the only comfort is the Comforter. And isn’t that what ministry is all about?
Dear Working Preachers, this is a Pentecost sermon before the event, but maybe it’s the Spirit your people need to know. The Spirit who comes alongside them and says, “may I sit with you?” The Spirit whom your people can ask, “will you sit with me?” Because sometimes, what is there really to say? In those moments of indescribable grief. In those moments of inconceivable heartache. While Jesus has a lot to say now, he knows words will not be enough once he and his disciples cross the Kidron Valley. That no words will even be possible.
Here, in the Farewell Discourse, when the hour has come for him to return to the Father, Jesus looks back on his own ministry. And when he does, he tells his disciples that he has always been their Paraclete, “I am sending you another Paraclete.” I will always sit with you.
Dear Working Preachers, you know this truth. That ministry is so very often, “may I just sit with you?” Or, someone asking you, “Pastor, will you just sit with me?” But here is my question for you. You hold so much, dear Working Preachers. The grief of your people and your own. The grief of what the church was and the unknown of what it needs to be. The grief of communal, national, and global strife. So who sits with you? Who is your paraclete/s? The one who comes alongside you, sits with you. With no words necessary. Holding your space for whatever you need it to be.
I truly believe that when Jesus said, “I am sending another Advocate,” reflecting on what his ministry was about and what it meant to him, he wanted his disciples to see that same “just sit with me” in each other. That reclining around the table, their feet washed and bread shared, they would look at each other, and say to one another, “Thomas, you are my paraclete. Andrew, you are my paraclete. Nathaniel, you are my paraclete.”
Because “just sit with me” is what abiding should feel like and is the very embodiment of the command to love.