6 Easter – May 9, 2021
Last Sunday we heard about vines. Jesus used a vivid image of a branch abiding in a vine. If the branch were to separate itself from the vine, it would wither and die. But if it simply stays connected, the vines aliveness flows into the branch and bears fruit through it. So, if we abide or remain in vital connection to Christ, the Spirit will flow with God’s aliveness in and through us, making us both beautiful and fruitful.
Today Jesus continues his message from last Sunday…. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” And “You are my friends…” Jesus calls his disciples “friends” and contrasts this with the master-servant relationship which was a one-way relationship. Friendship is a two-way relationship.
He persists in telling them what he wants them—what he needs them—to know about who he is, what he has done, what he will yet do, what he is calling them (us) to do after he is physically gone. “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father…..I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
The knowledge that Jesus shares with his followers is not for the purpose of giving them worldly power. It is not designed to make them feel important, or to initiate them into secrets meant for a select few, or to make their lives easier, for that matter. He doesn’t intend for them to use the knowledge as a weapon to threaten or diminish others. What Jesus reveals to his friends—his friends at the table that night, his friends throughout the ages, us,—he does for one reason: For love.
Let’s talk a little bit about the nature of Christian love. The love God showed toward Jesus, he showed toward his disciples so they could show it to each other. When they love in this way, their love becomes infused with divine qualities. But in our world today, in the English language, the word love embraces a wide range of feelings and dispositions. To highlight only the extremes, love can be used on the one hand to describe something as trivial as a French fry and on the other hand something as profound as a parent’s care and concern for a child.
Jesus speaks of love and revelation in the same breath. He wants his friends to understand that loving and knowing are of part of a whole, that loving draws us deeper into knowing and being known by the one whom we love. So, here on the threshold of his death, Jesus cannot go until he tells them that by their loving, they will remain in relationship with him; through their shared love, he will yet reveal himself to them and be known by them.
That shared love might also be revealed in fellowship. Fellowship is the kind of belonging that isn’t based on status, achievement, or gender, but instead is based on a deep belief that everyone matters, everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved, no conditions, no exceptions. It’s not the kind of belonging that you find at the top of the ladder among those who think they are the best, but at the bottom among all the rest, with all the other failures and losers who have either climbed the ladder and fallen, or never gotten up enough gumption to climb in the first place.
As any good mystic knows, being in relationship with Christ does not mean forever wallowing around in this mutual, mystical indwelling that takes place among God, Jesus, the Spirit, and us. Abiding with Christ is a wonder and a gift of grace, but it’s not a perpetual feel-good fest. There at the table, Jesus emphasizes that being in relationship with him, and receiving the Advocate, compels us to a concrete response in the world.
This challenging Christian love is not an emotional, cozy feeling. It’s not romantic love. It’s a conscious decision to put yourself on the line and take a risk for the other. This kind of love will make sure that justice is done in the world. Being members together in the Body of Christ makes us all friends, all neighbors, and therefore makes all our lives, regardless of color, regardless of gender, regardless of all of the isms, matter.
Living with Jesus challenges us to love not only him but also those whom he sends to us. And perhaps this is the real gift and intent of the Spirit, the Helper and Advocate whom he promised to send to the disciples: that the Spirit will sustain us as we live into the love to which Christ calls us, even when, and especially when, it means abiding with those whom we’d rather build walls against.
At the very least, we just need to keep asking questions, and pursuing answers: How do we love as Jesus loved? How do we sustain such depths of compassion and remain healthy? Do we have it in us to experience a hunger for justice so fierce and so urgent that we’ll rearrange our lives in order to pursue it? Do we want to?
I think most of us want to be safe. We want to keep our circle small and manageable. We want to choose the people we love based on our own affinities and preferences — not on Jesus’s all-inclusive commandment. Charitable actions are easy. But cultivating our hearts? Preparing and pruning it to love? Becoming vulnerable in authentic ways to the world’s pain? Those things are hard.
So what can we do? Where do we begin? Jesus offers a single, straightforward answer: “Abide in my love.” Following on the heels of last week’s Gospel, Jesus extends the metaphor of the vine and branches and calls us once again to abide. To rest, to cling, to make ourselves at home. Not simply in him, but in his love.
Jesus’s love is not just our example, it is our source. It’s where our love originates and deepens. Where it replenishes itself. In other words, if we don’t abide, we can’t love. Jesus’s commandment to us is not that we wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own easily depleted resources. Rather, it’s that we abide in the holy place where divine love becomes possible. That we make our home in Jesus’s love — the most abundant and inexhaustible love in existence.
As Debi Thomas states so well: As is so often the case in our lives as Christians, Jesus’s commandment leads us straight to paradox: we are called to action via rest. Called to become love as we abide in love. In other words, we will become what we attend to; we will give away what we take in. The commandment — or better yet, the invitation — is to drink our fill of the Source, which is Christ, spill over to bless the world, and then return to the Source for a fresh in-filling. This is our movement, our rhythm, our dance. Over and over again. This is where we begin and end and begin again. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Abide in my love.”
These are finally not two separate actions. They are one and the same. One “impossible” commandment to save the world. It’s all about love. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Amen.