My family and I have been learning a great deal about the importance of advocacy since my son Christopher’s traumatic brain injury in January, emergency surgery, and comatose state. Since he cannot speak and care for himself at the present time, a great many care givers advocate for him and his well-being. Their regard for his well-being as advocates stand out to me on Ascension Sunday with Pentecost a week away. Although I recently published a book on the liturgical calendar, I am approaching Ascension Sunday today and Pentecost Sunday next weekend with a new set of lenses and intensified interest.
Why is that? Because each in their own way, Scripture reveals Jesus and the Holy Spirit as advocates. Jesus’ ascension and the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost highlight such activity. Ascension Sunday draws attention to Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father forty days after his bodily resurrection from the dead. Pentecost Sunday highlights the Holy Spirit’s descent several days later to be among Jesus’ people. We find both events on display in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1 and 2.
According to Oxford, our English phrase to “advocate” originates in Latin—“advocare ‘call (to one’s aid),’ from ad- ‘to’ + vocare ‘to call.’” The terminology suggests “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy,” “a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf,” “a pleader in a court of law; a lawyer.” Jesus and the Spirit function in this way.
John 14:16-17 records Jesus comforting his disciples during his Farewell Discourse with these words about advocacy: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth…” (NIV). The word “another” conveys that Jesus is himself an advocate, who will advocate on his followers’ behalf and ask the Father to send another advocate, the Spirit of truth, that is the Holy Spirit. In fact, they operate together—Jesus at God’s right hand and the Spirit within us. They plead and advocate before the Father for our spiritual well-being, healing, and growth. The second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons referred to Jesus and the Spirit metaphorically as God’s two hands. For example, he writes: “For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.” God does everything from creation to the culmination of redemption through these two divine “hands.” Playing off that language, we are in good hands with Jesus and the Spirit who advocate for us before God’s throne.
Jesus and the Spirit comfort, counsel, empower, and advocate for those entrusted to their care. They are attentive to their patients’ needs. For all who wonder why I use “patients” in this context, it’s because the church is not only called to be a sanctuary of saints. It is also called to be a hospital for sinners, especially for those spiritually bankrupt souls who are lying flat on their backs desperate for God’s mercy. So, I feel quite at home in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, especially these days.
Now you and I may have observed people serving as advocates who flourish or flop in their roles. For our part, we have been blessed to have social workers, care coordinators, and hospitalists advocating for us and providing direction in the medical labyrinth as we advocate for our son. We have been comforted in knowing that nurses and CNAs have relayed concerns as they tend to our son. We have been relieved as doctors, surgeons, and medical ethicists prescribe, operate, and counsel in the shadow of the giant-size medical industry with the aim of putting Christopher in the best position to heal and recover. We have been deeply touched by all those who pray, ponder, and provide holistic care for Christopher and us. We have so many wonderful advocates.
I am trying my best to be a good advocate for my son, like these other care givers, and in the line of Jesus and the Spirit. Still, some may wonder if a spirit or ghost can be a good comforter or advocate, no matter how holy. Here I call to mind my daughter Julianne’s request to me as her parental advocate when she was a little girl. It was bedtime and I was praying for her at her bedside. At some point she interjected, “Daddy, please protect me from the Holy Ghost.”
Someone might also wonder how I could be a good advocate. Here I recall how I asked Julianne a few years later, as she was heading upstairs toward their rooms, to relay a message for me to her teenage brother Christopher: “Please tell Christopher to turn off his radio while he’s studying.” I can still hear her knocking at his door and relaying my instructions. When a frustrated Christopher retorted, “Why?!” Julianne didn’t miss a beat: “Because he [Dad] is mean and he has power!” As the Scripture says, “Out of the mouths of infants and babes, you have ordained praise [and criticism] to silence the foe and the avenger.”
Regardless of how my children viewed me then, I am trying my best to be a good advocate for my son, as are other family members and friends. As to family members, we recommend that hospital and rehabilitation center staff play music that he likes. We ask them questions regarding the condition of his lungs, his vitals, temperature, and skin condition. After all, it is not simply the traumatic brain injury that poses problems. The brain damage along with being on his back day and night for months poses all kinds of other problems for my son. Pneumonia and skin wounds can sneak up on you very quickly. Undying diligence in advocacy is of paramount importance round the clock.
We advocate for Christopher and we try to advocate for the entire facility. Where we have keen concerns and even criticisms related to care, we do not make sweeping allegations, but deal with specifics, make realistic recommendations, often based on what we know from their own regulations and medical orders, and ask what we can do to assist and collaborate. We move his limbs, bring pillows, trim his nails, and do other things that staff find helpful. We want to be part of the solution, wherever that is welcome. As the old saying goes, leave a room or a facility better than the way you found it. So, we seek to advocate for our son, and not simply for our son, but for all those receiving and providing care. Calling for positive change and being part of the positive change is all positive. Advocate.
To be honest with you, Jesus and the Spirit are not leaving me in worse shape than when they found me. Nor are those who have been advocating for us in prayer, meditation, and other holistic forms of care. To be honest, I was ready to call it quits on ministry in the days following my son’s traumatic brain injury. In fact, I still find it hard at times to cope with life. And yet, heavenly and earthly advocates, divine and human hands, are at work, to get us into better shape than when they found us.
Now, hopefully you can see why I am looking at Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday with a new set of lenses and intensified interest. We have good advocates in high-level, mid-level, and low-level-with-the-action places where we live. Thank God. Thank you.