The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B, Church of the Resurrection, Franklin, April 28, 2024

Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jo. 15:4).

“Abide” is a funny word, with an old-fashioned Smoky Mountain sound to it: you can imagine your hillbilly grandma saying, for instance, “I can’t abide fiddle music.” Or maybe, “I’m going to bide my time here until the sheriff comes.” Then again, your grandma might “make her abode on the other side of the crick.” Bide, abide, abode: all different forms of the same word, with glorious Old English roots, meaning to stay in place or endure. If your grandma from the mountains can’t abide fiddle music, it simply means she’s not willing to stand around and listen.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks quite a bit about “abiding” or “remaining”: eight times in the eight verses of our reading today. Because he dwells on it, you might think that Jesus has a vested interest in our staying put and continuing in place; that there’s virtue in the simple stationary stance. God abides forever, and so should we. It’s good to be deeply rooted. We stand on the unchanging rock, after all, on the timeless truths that will remain. God forbid that we should ever move on from that.

But there’s a difference between being deeply rooted and being rootbound. If you’re rootbound there’s no room for further growth, just a tangled mass of material that can’t take in nourishment. If we are branches of the “true vine” (Jo. 15:1), and we are, we don’t want to become rootbound, stuck in place and unable to get up and go. We need to be able to move. As the risen Lord says toward the end of John’s Gospel, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jo. 20:21). Or again, as Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me” (Jo. 21:19). Whatever it’s about, abiding is not about immobility.

Jesus’ words, “Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jo. 15:4), indicate that that there’s more going on here than just staying in place or enduring, and that’s connection. We abide in him and he abides in us. As the Father has sent him, so he has sent the disciples. We follow Jesus because of our relationship with him, our deep and abiding connection with the risen Lord. That relationship was created by baptism, in which we become Jesus’ friends and followers.

Abiding is about remaining connected to Jesus, and through him to one another. As it says in our reading from the First Letter of John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 Jo. 4:7). Love is the vital connection that binds us together into one, with God and each other. “God is love,” John writes, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (Jo. 4:16). Without love, the willingness to give ourselves for others as Christ gave himself for us, there will only be a profound disconnection, a lack of abiding: the disconnection we call “sin” (1 Jo. 2:1).

Eastertide is the season for us to grow in love, to enter more deeply in our relationship with Jesus. That is the nature of true abiding. We’re given fifty days to hang out with Jesus, to abide with him as he abides with us. In this season, we are given our neighbors and fellow parishioners to abide with, to be connected to, so that we may learn the lessons of love that we need for this journey. That’s the nature of Christian community: a place for challenging lessons! Let our confirmands today, and our baptismal candidate, take note. He is the vine, we are the branches, as Jesus says in our Gospel today. As we abide in him and he in us, we will bring forth much fruit.

Above all, in this holy season, we’re mindful of the gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament by which we abide in Christ, and he abides in us. Jesus says in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (Jo. 6: 55-56). Jesus had just fed the five thousand, and people are having a hard time understanding his meaning. Once again, the theme is abiding. St. Hilary, an early bishop of the Church, wrote this about that, about the Eucharist: “It is truly flesh and truly blood. And these when eaten and drunk, bring it to pass that both we are in Christ and Christ is in us” (On the Trinity VIII.14). You don’t need to hail from Rocky Top to get the point. We abide in him and he is us, as we share in the communion of Christ’s Body and Blood.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee