On the surface today’s Gospel Reading is a pretty nice warm fuzzy kind of reading. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. “ We get all of the really good stuff in this passage that we mainline Church denominations can’t get enough of. Jesus talking about his relationship to God being one of love; and in turn his own relationship to his disciples (these followers he no longer calls servants, but friends) being one marked by love. Finally, then we get this commandment to love one another… Really good stuff—and it’s the kind of stuff that we need to hear.
But this isn’t exactly what catches my attention in this reading. It’s this “abide” thing that gets me. In last week’s reading, about the True Vine, Jesus used this term “abide” something like 10 times in the passage. And today, the continuation from last week’s reading; we have him using this word “abide” again.
I suppose it isn’t an accident. After all there is so much intention in the words that the Gospel Writers choose when Jesus speaks. So, I’m certain that this is no different. So, what does “abide” mean? I know from The Big Lebowski that “The Dude Abides.” I know that my parents will not abide certain behavior.
That said, I’m sure we all have some contextual understanding of the word’s meaning.
The Miriam-Webster dictionary offers a few definitions: 1) To wait for: await. 2) To endure without yielding: withstand 3) To accept without objection.
If we were to plug in these definitions into Jesus telling the disciples to abide in his love, an interesting thing happens.
Wait for, or await in my love… We may wonder how we can await in the love of Jesus, but if we think about it, there is this almost sure sense that we wait with anticipation of something more. Perhaps then, in this case, our waiting in Christ’s love is holding on to the promise of loving relationship; full acceptance; mercy; forgiveness. Even more, it may be the waiting and expectation of justice in the world—an end to suffering, starvation, war and disease. Maybe then awaiting in the love of Jesus is something like taking shelter in a cave until the storm of life passes away, and hope can be revealed.
Endure without yielding, or withstand in my love… I don’t suppose I really need a show of hands to know that we experience people who are difficult to love. I’d imagine it’s unanimous—especially if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing by loving in spite of ourselves. But in this arrangement we find that in the love of Jesus we are called to withstand and endure loving others—even those we can’t imagine loving. What I find particularly great about this is that there is no idealistic, or naïve understanding of love. Unlike a pop song, this understanding recognizes how difficult, and sometimes painful loving can be (whether that love is for someone we like loving, or not). All the same our hope is in Jesus’ invitation to love—to abide, endure and withstand in his love.
Finally, accept without objection in my love… Perhaps this one would be easier if it said “accept without objection my love” rather than in my love. In this case the charge is ours as those waiting and enduring in Christ’s love to accept all people and things without objection. This is just as difficult as the first two, because to accept without objection undermines our choice. It ignores our discrimination. And it disallows our resistance. All things we’re not comfortable with—especially because such things leave us defenseless and at the mercy of others—which is dangerous.
Honestly, I wish that there was a way to turn this aspect around and make it a little more fuzzy-wuzzy. But to do that would make it something other than love—certainly other than the love of Christ. Because as we know he accepted without objection all the way to the cross. He even says that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” All the same this is part of abiding in the love of Jesus.
Now, before we all decide that abiding in the love of Jesus seems like it might not be such a good idea after all; I’d like us to consider a couple more things. And these have to do with the other definitions of abide. Because abide can also mean 1) to remain stable or fixed in a state, or 2) to continue in a place: sojourn… It can also mean to conform to or to acquiesce in…
In these ways, abiding in the love of Jesus includes finding our stability. It means continuing to dwell in what might seem like a temporary place (in this case a holy place). It means being changed just by being in that love, and continually assenting and saying ‘yes’ to that love.
The fact is that the reason that so many of us preach about the love of Jesus Christ is because once we actually experience it—once we really look at it and try to understand it; we know we’re not getting off easy. We know it’s not really about ignoring the harsh, glaring difficulties of life. Instead we know that it’s about finding our place in a love so big that it can encompass all of the troubles and pain in the world; and at the same time help us to endure, and gives us a place where we can dwell…where we can abide.
Jesus said, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.