18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
‘Orphaned’ doesn’t seem to have quite the same emotional impact as ‘fatherless’. Maybe it’s my generation. Maybe it’s my own story. My brother was my surrogate father. Almost five years older, he was the one I looked to for connection, guidance, companionship. His were the footsteps I followed. I saw my real father holidays and summers; I loved him deeply. I love him deeply. But when I was small, the day to day fathering (and some bullying) came from Ken.
And then he died.
A brain aneurism a month before he turned 23. I was just 18, leaving home for college. Suddenly I felt like I was falling down stairs without walls or handrails. There was no guide. No listener. No one to say, “I remember when that happened to me.” No one to make all these new experiences normal. So I was alone, not only physically, away at school, but facing the future without any guide but one last letter, mailed the day before he died.
I cannot imagine the devastation of the cross for the followers of Jesus. Neither can I imagine the anxiety among John’s community as their teacher neared his end. He was an original witness. He had been their guide and teacher and leader for 50 years. How would they survive without him? What would hold them together? Who would keep them in the faith?
So John’s account of Jesus speaks not just of that time, long ago, when John received from Jesus the care of his mother. John’s account speaks of his own time as his final days draw near. And the word of Jesus he places before his community is this simple promise: “I will not leave you fatherless.”
“I am coming to you.” John puts the phrase in the present tense. Jesus is coming to us. It is his nature to come. Just as it is God’s nature to come. It is God’s nature to seek the lost, to gather the scattered, to bind up the wounded, to lead us to good pasture, to bring us into Life – to bring the whole creation to Life.
“I am coming to you.” Not just in scattered resurrection appearances, but in the Holy Spirit. In the abiding presence of the Father. In his own abiding presence in the community. In the bread and wine and word. In the love that he commanded.
“I am coming to you.” Again and again he comes, calling to mind all that he has said, reminding us of his promise, renewing in us his grace, summoning us into lives of witness and service.
Last words are things of power. I know how I clung to my brother’s last words. I know how his letter shaped me consciously and unconsciously. It led my path, ultimately to seminary and to the inner city.
And these last words of Jesus are words of power. Words that sustain. Words that comfort. Words that empower. Words that call forth the love he commanded. We are not orphaned. He is with us.