Abandonment names what many are feeling during this time.
Many are feeling abandoned by leadership during this crisis. Signs in nursing homes and hospitals that say “No Visitors Allowed,” leave many of their residents feeling forsaken. We’ve heard stories of loved ones dying alone in ICU units and nursing homes, feeling abandoned because families cannot visit.
No virtual meeting can satisfy the hunger of our hearts for human touch. The stay at home order and the social distancing increases our sense of isolation and abandonment. Then there are those on the margins who are left out when it comes to decision making. Communities of color who are carrying more than their share of death and sickness during the Pandemic are feeling abandoned.
There’s a hospital museum in London that displays buttons, coins and fragments of fabric that were once pinned to a baby’s clothing. The hospital is a foundling hospital where mothers during the 18th century abandoned their babies because of their circumstances. They’re called foundling hospitals because these abandoned babies were found and cared for there. One of the pendants on the baby’s clothing was engraved with the baby’s initials and the words, “You have my love though we must part.”
Jesus is telling the disciples you have my love though we must part. He tells them, “in a little while you will see me no longer…” Then Jesus adds, “I will not leave you orphaned.” He will not abandon them.
Our hearts need to hold onto that same promise. Jesus has promised not to abandon us. He has promised to send an Advocate, a companion to be with us.
Fr. Smiga tells the story of an isolated tribe in Africa that has no word in their language for Advocate or companion. No word for the Holy Spirit. It was noticed that when the tribe went for a journey into the bush, each member carried a bundle of possessions on their head, except for one person who carried nothing. It was discovered that the one who carried nothing had a particular job. When any of the group fell down exhausted, that person fell down next to them, took up the burden and carried it. In the language of the tribe the person was called “the one who fell down beside us.”
That’s what the Holy Spirit came to be known in their language. The Holy Spirit was the One who fell down beside them and took up their burdens when they could no longer carry them.
During this Pandemic we have witnessed nurses, doctors, and aides falling down to help people burdened by sickness and death. We witness family members and neighbors carrying the burdens of others when they can no longer carry them. Many of us have experienced people reaching out to us when the burdens seem too much to carry.
Such people give witness to the Holy Spirit in our lives. They are reminders that Jesus has not and will not abandon us—that He has sent and will send an Advocate, as well as, companions during this time so that we do not feel abandoned.
The African American Spiritual writer Howard Thurman tells the story of growing up during the time of Halley’s Comet. The people did not understand what this comet meant. They were anxious and not sure what to do. Thurman said a store down the street was selling “Comet Pills” that were supposed to immunize you from the comet. The people were just frightened.
One night Thurman was in bed and his mother came in and asked him if wanted to see the comet. So he went outside with her and looked up at the sky. When he saw the comet blazing across the sky he said to his mother, “Momma, I’m going to die.” She just said, “God will take care of us.”
Jesus is saying to us, I’m sending you an Advocate so you know that God will take care of you.
Thurman wrote later in life, “I’ve seen many things since that night…But over the years…the power of my mother’s words have come back to me again and again.”
Over the years, the power of Jesus words, the power of his promise must have come back to the disciples over and over again. Jesus is telling us that we have an Advocate who will fall down with us, who promises to carry our burdens when we cannot. We turn to those same words during this Pandemic when we, like so many who feel abandoned during this time.
The items pinned to the clothing of the babies were left so, if the mother returned, she could identify the child. They were also left for the child to know they were not abandoned, but rather placed in the care of...They were signs of the mother’s love.
Jesus left us in the care of the Advocate, a companion to be with us, during this time and all times, so that we might know we are not abandoned, but loved.