Called alongside to help

This grave was among the thousands of World War 1 graves we saw in Flanders recently. It is in the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery and is the grave of a young medical doctor, Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884 - 1917).

 Noel Chavasse was awarded the Victoria Cross (twice) because of his bravery going out into 'no man’s land' under heavy fire to come alongside injured men. He saved many lives, eventually dying of his own wounds.

This weekend I've been thinking about him and others like him - people who come alongside others to help the vulnerable.

These thoughts have been triggered by the gospel reading for today John 14: 15 - 21. Jesus' promised his friends that they would not be abandoned, not left alone and vulnerable. The time was coming when they would see Jesus no more, but they would be given the Holy Spirit, 'another Advocate', to be with them for ever.

The Greek word 'parakletos' used in this passage  doesn't have any English equivalent that can encompass its whole meaning. The Greek word, like the English word 'Advocate' derives from the idea of one called alongside. That derivation is what reminded me of the young doctor of World War 1, Noel Chavasse.

For Noel Chavasse it was his compassionate recognition of the needs of severely wounded men and the crucial importance of getting help to them quickly that called him to come alongside the injured, even at grave risk to himself. They needed immediate help. He heard their cries. He had the ability to provide skilled help, right where they were, at their point of need. If injured and stuck in a shell hole under fire, it’s not much help to know there’s a 1st Aid post nearby which you can't reach, or a hospital miles away. What you need is someone with you now to provide that critical 1st response that could save your life, relieve your pain or at lease reassure you that you are not alone, you have not been abandoned - help is here.

So, if you ask me, 'what is the Holy Spirit like?' there's a lot that could be said, but one response is that the Holy Spirit is like one who comes alongside to help - not remotely, but at the point of need.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come alongside
to help and heal,
to comfort and console,
to strengthen and encourage.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Image Credit: my own photo


  1. I think that the Church is called to be the advocate for the poor, the vulnerable, the widows, prisoners and the sick or bereaved. This figure widely in the Gospels and also in the 5 marks of mission that we've adopted as part of the Anglican Communion. As advocate, I possibly mean witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own context.

    My experience of this is a little patchy. But in my current parish I can see it at work in the people around me. Sure, we have those who are content to just 'be' in the pews, but I've been surprised and delighted by the activisim that I've seen around me. Many more people, doing more in small or bigger ways to be part of the wider mission and community and Kingdom building than I've experienced in the past.

    Next Sunday, we're coming together with the five other churches in our area to celebrate Churches together, openly, in our garden, not the church building and this is our way of also thanking the local community for their support for each church in their own way. The various denominations work together tightly. Their pastors meet at least monthly for prayer and share bread and wine. The congregations meet at least four times a year and many parishioners work together across churches in community events and community based organisations. I'm constantly surprised by the reach that they have. As a newcomer to the parish (relatively speaking) it's been a delight to start that journey of service as I move towards formal training as a Licensed Lay Minister. I can't think of a better example of witness than the ecumenical effort in my community and would love to see the Holy Spirit to bring the role of advocate or witness wider in the church.

    1. Good news from your area. Another aspect that strikes me today is that the local church or any Christian is not always strong. Sometimes we are weak, poor, sick and vulnerable and therefore in much in need of someone to 'come alongside' to help or speak for us. To have the humility to ask for help and receive it as gift from God, even when that help comes through someone or organizations that do not acknowledge the Spirit of Jesus at work in this. Does that make sense?


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