Sometimes, just after a death, I ask the Holy Spirit to live out his name with a family in grief.
I get the word from John 14, part of Jesus’ last long teaching to his disciples before his execution. Jesus says that he’s leaving them. He says he will ask the Father to send someone to be with them forever. Some translations use comforter, or advocate or helper, but then Jesus follows up by talking about the Spirit of Truth.
This spirit, helper, comforter, has a number of roles. But as I am with a family, asking for the role of comforter, I’ve got a clear need in mind.
This family is aware that in this life, they will never see or hear or touch this person again. And that is a deep grief.
It’s not a hopeless grief in the Christian worldview. There are promises about future interaction. But this moment is not then.
When Jesus talked about sending the Spirit, he was talking to people who were going to have that same experience. In a day, he would die. In three days, he would live. And in about 6 weeks, he would disappear. Even though he promised that he would be with them always, the disciples were 6 weeks from not being able to see or hear or touch this person they had been living with and learning from for three years. Jesus knew, and they didn’t yet understand, that what they had come to assume was a daily reality was about to change. Because of his death, it would be better in the long run. Because of his ascension, it could be experientially harder in the short run.
And so he sends his Spirit.
It’s not the same. The disciples could not smell the spirit the same way they could smell Jesus. But now they didn’t have to depend on Jesus to do the cool stuff. They were involved, through the power of the Spirit.
And sometimes the cool stuff ends up being comfort in moments of deepest distress.