As human beings, touch conveys so, so much. We are tactile beings and when touch is used and offered appropriately, sympathetically and lovingly; touch builds us and others up.
The touch of a lover, the touch of a small child resting on a parent’s lap, the hearty handshake or slap on the back some folks give their mates, the touch of a steadying hand reaching out to a family member who is ill, the touch of bumping into fellow revelers at a gig, the tap on the shoulder by way of encouragement, the touch and warmth of acceptance when you hold hands with those you love; hug those you love.
No wonder, amidst the socially distancing required by Covid 19, many deeply felt the loss of touch and human contact, made, sadly, all too personal.
This week’s Gospel reading mentions the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and the importance of the Spirit’s touch. in taking each of us “by the hand”.
Have a wee read…(highlight added)
The Gospel reading.
1-4 “I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.
The Friend Will Come
4-7 “I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.
8-11 “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.
12-15 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.
I was struggling to make it up the last hill after a forty mile ride with the cycle club. The harder I tried, the more I seemed to go backwards. Until, I felt the touch of a friend’s hand on my shoulder as he with his strength and momentum pushed me over the crest.
I fondly remember sitting as a small boy on my grandfather George’s lap and pressing with my fingers into his finger tips and watching the imprint of my finger mark fade. I still recall him saying that as you get older your skin is not quite so, as he called it, “springy”.
Lurgan swimming pool. The Boys’ Brigade swimming gala. I was the last swimmer in the relay team (by no means the best swimmer, but why worry). We were in the lead and just before I dived in, my leader tapped me gently on the head and simply said “You’ve got this”. Turns out he was right.
Meeting a dear friend after many years apart to know by the sheer crush of his hug that we were still best friends.
That first hand hold and kiss with a girlfriend. Electric being shared.
The touch of healing hands, a doctor checking me over. A nurse holding my hand prior to an operation.
The poke in the arm or gentle dig in the leg from my son on his return from Liverpool.
The firm slap on the back from a good neighbour as he pulls up a bar stool for a chat and a pint on a Friday night.
The firm grip of Mum’s hand on my collar as she hauled me back from the pavement edge whilst I was a child.
Of course touch can be misused. Touch can so easily violate, manipulate, crush. Trauma of multiple natures is always carried in the body and memory.
Petersen’s description, this Pentecost season that…
“… when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is”.
… resonates deep within.
Not that I can claim to understand fully the majesty, wonder and sometimes, frankly confusing and challenging work of God’s Spirit in my life. Not by a long, long, way.
But I have known, the “touch” of God, taking my hand and guiding me (and you I trust you too) into “truth”. Of life, faith, the environment, friends, family, community, God’s word as in the Scriptures and above all God’s word as in the person of Christ. Occasional experiences of Christ’s gift, the Holy Spirit, amidst times of prayer, worship, communion, service.
I have no doubt that I have experienced the “touch” of God’s Holy Spirit way beyond my knowing.
Thanks be to God.
I do wonder, maybe, in our everyday experience of a “touch” and a person’s hand shaping our lives we see, feel and better understand the work of God’s Spirit throughout our lives. Maybe.
And getting each of us over that “hill”.
In letting us rest as a child in a grandparent’s arms,
In that experience through touch that someone has confidence in us.
In that bear hug that says, “It’s good to see you”.
In that genesis moment of love and a journey towards emotional and physical and relational intimacy,
In that act of everyday neighbourliness, (even a slap on the back).
In that grasp of authority, love and protection. (Thanks Mum!)
In the Spirit of God, taking each of us, by the hand and leading us deeper into the truth of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.