How Do We Abide?
Easter VI (RCL Cycle B)/9 May 2021
Today Jesus is saying “farewell” to his disciples, and to us. This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. On that day, we will gather with the disciples on the crest of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and watch as Jesus vanishes from our sight.
In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus tell us to abide in him in the same way he abides in the Father. We are instructed to live this way because this is the means by which our faith, even our lives are sustained and nurtured. Thus, enabling our souls to grow deeper into that mystery we call grace.
There are two questions before us this morning and in actuality they are one and the same question. The first is how do we live the abundant life Jesus promises? The second is how do we live and abide in this abundant life? Brother David Vyrhof of the Cowley Fathers puts it this way:
Why is it that we do not always experience abundant life? Perhaps it is because we do not know how to abide, how to live in union with Jesus, so that his life becomes our life, his strength our strength, his love our love.
Our Gospel passage today is a continuation of last week’s reading (Jn. 15:1-8) from Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the night before he died. Here we learn that God’s love for us as followers of Christ is in turn to be embodied through love for Christ and for one another. Jesus declares, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn. 15:9). Moreover, just as Jesus has been faithful in keeping the Father’s commandments, his followers are to do likewise (v. 10).
Obedience and abiding are indistinguishable in the life of Jesus. From his Baptism, to the wilderness temptations, to healing the ill and infirm, to fraternizing with the outcast and unclean, to challenging Israel’s religious leaders, and finally to giving his life at Golgotha — Jesus’ life has been lived according to God’s will for him.
Such obedience, as a sign of genuine love, is also a source of great joy. Far from being oppressive, this obedience to God leads to a sense of purpose, wholeness, and fulfillment, so that believers’ “joy may be complete” (v. 11).
We are to express that Divine love by loving one another in the same way that Jesus loved us. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12; cf 13:34-35). This love is expressed by actions, not just words or feelings, and is seen most clearly in the way of self-sacrifice — in laying down one’s life for one’s friends (v. 13), as Jesus did for us.
When the disciples obey Jesus’ commandments and share his love, they are no longer “servants” — they are his “friends” (vv. 14-15). The slave or servant of even the most generous master does what is commanded by necessity, because a hierarchy of authority exists between them. Now a new relationship is established based on mutual commitment and trust. This friendship is a manifestation of Jesus’ steadfast love and a call to service and faithfulness.
In acknowledging the disciples as friends, Jesus has opened to them all that the Father has given him to reveal. He has withheld nothing — they know what he knows. They now have everything required for them to be fellow workers with God for the salvation of the world. They have matured in Christ from being servants who follow orders to becoming co-working friends.
Jesus goes on to make clear that their discipleship is not something they planned and executed. Jesus chose them and charged them with a purpose. John’s Gospel makes no stronger statement on the call to vocation than here. Moreover, they are chosen to bear fruit that should last (v. 16) as they carry on Jesus’ mission.
To this Jesus adds a promise. When a disciple brings his or her will into conformity with God’s will, which is love, the empowerment to love will be manifested in any petition. In this obedience, there is no limitation to what God can and will do in the life of the believer.
We have not chosen Jesus; he has chosen us. We may never understand the reasons for God’s choice. It is enough if we learn what we have been called to do: love one another and glorify the name of the Father by keeping the commandments given to us. “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (v. 17).
These words of Jesus are echoed in today’s Epistle, where we read that we are children of God by loving and obeying God’s commandments: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (1 Jn. 5:3a). However, the commandments are not burdens to be borne, but are the way to life and fulfillment. Thus, the life obtained in Jesus’ name is a gain over the world for all who believe. “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (v. 4b). This victory is the work of Jesus the Redeemer “who came by water and blood” (v. 6a) — the water of Baptism and the blood of his death and Resurrection. The presence of the Spirit further affirms the witness of Jesus as God’s Son. “And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth” (v. 6b; cf Jn. 15:26).
John Taylor, writing in The Go-Between God states:
Patriarchs, prophets and kings had from time to time acted as intercessors for the people, and Moses was the supreme example of this. Yet no figure in the Bible before the appearance of Christ seems to have depended upon the habit of communion with God as Jesus did. We tend to read back into the Old Testament and into the devotional patterns of other faiths those meanings which Jesus gave to the word “prayer,” and so conceal the fact that what was so characteristic of Jesus is almost unique amid the formal recitations which are the commonplace of religion everywhere else, including most of the churches. Other faiths have their mystics, but only in Jesus, I believe, can we find such spontaneous and personal communion with God combined with such passionate ethical concern for humanity. Both awareness of God and awareness of the world attain their zenith in him. …
And then, for the first time, through the quiet tones of human speech, the sound-waves of this world were stirred by that eternal converse which is ever passing between the Father and the Son in the Being of God. And since the third person of the Trinity is himself that communion which flows between the Father and the Son, the Spirit is the very breath of the prayer of Jesus. Immersed in the Go-Between Spirit, he cried Abba! And knew himself as the Beloved Son. And pouring out that Spirit upon the openness-to-each-other of his friends he shared with them the right to use the same naively bold address: Abba![i]
Now the saving grace of Christ was to be offered to all — not through external circumstances, but because of the faith of believers. The message of God’s love through Christ can truly be preached to the ends of the earth, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Baptism extended to all who hear and accept the love of God through Christ. This is indeed a “marvelous thing.”
Living the abundant life and abiding in Jesus is both simple and difficult at the same time. All we have to do is to accept the unconditional love Jesus offers – that is the easy part. The other thing we have to do is to love our brothers and sisters unconditionally, just like Jesus, thus we abide and build what our Presiding Bishop calls “The Beloved Community.”
[i] John Taylor, The Go-Between God (Oxford Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 225-226