6 May 2018
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6B (RCL)
1 John 5:1-6
I’ve never seen the movie “The Big Lebowski,” But after these readings from John and 1 John, I might just have to rent it. A quote from the film that has made it into popular culture is, “The Dude abides.” In John’s Gospel and letters, the verb abide plays a central role. When the two disciples of John the Baptist (Andrew and an unnamed disciple) follow Jesus, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What do you seek?” They reply, “Rabbi, where to you abide” (or remain – often translated, where are you staying?). Jesus replies, “Come and see.” The Gospel is an invitation to learn where Jesus abides.
In the Gospel reading for last week, and this the verb meno, or abide shows up over an over again. We even miss it a couple of times because of translation. In last week’s Epistle, we read, “If we love one another, God lives in us.” A more correct translation would be, “God abides in us.” This week, in the Gospel, we read, “And I appointed you to go and bear much fruit, fruit that will last.” You guessed it – it might better read, “I have placed you in order that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide.” What is the importance of the concept of abiding?
John’s Gospel was written after the destruction of the Temple, and the question raised for all Judaisms was where God might be found, where God abides. In chapter two of the Gospel, after Jesus has cleansed the Temple, he challenges the authority to destroy the Temple and he will rebuild it in three days, referring to his Body. For Johannine Christians, God abides in the Temple of Jesus Body, the Christian community. That saying comes immediately on the heals of the miracle of water into wine, and now we are talking about vines and fruit. The Christians’ eucharistic worship is where God abides.
But the Johannine community’s eucharistic worship is not easy. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, or it remains alone. The vine must be pruned. And we are now Jesus’ friends, not servants, because he tells us everything he has heard from God. As servants, we could just follow orders, but now we are full participants in what God is doing. The only command we receive is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. John again in this passage uses an idiomatic expression he has used before, which we usually translate “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus says, “No greater love has anyone than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In Greek, the operative phrase is “tithe ten psyche uper” literally translated, “place one’s soul over” one’s friends. I asked a classical Greek scholar once what the expression meant, and he said that it spoke of the trust that one soldier placed in another. Figuratively, a soldier would hand his sword to his comrade and expose his neck. If his comrade did not cut of his head, he could trust him. He had “placed his soul in his friends care.” So maybe we could translate this, “No greater love has anyone than this, that to entrust one’s life to one’s friends.”
This is the kind of love in which God abides. In friendships like this, we abide in Christ and Christ in us. But it takes a great deal of work to build that kind of friendship. And Jesus chose us, we did not choose Jesus. Jesus has entrusted his life to us. And he has appointed us for this, to bear fruit. The word translated “appointed” is the same root as the word for “place” in the saying about entrusting our lives. I have placed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that abides. We are to provide fruit for the world. The surplus of trust will give fruit to the world (remember that Jesus turned 180 gallons of water into wine – so there’s going to be plenty for all). And that fruit is the mutual abiding of God and Christ and us and the spirit. The fruit abides.