Jesus teaches, 'abide in my love.'
First Reading Acts 10:44-48
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon some Gentiles as they listen to Peter speaking.
Second Reading 1 John 5:1-6
John asserts that Jesus is the Son of God. If we love God, he says, we love his Son and obey his commandments.
Gospel John 15:9-17
Abide in love, Jesus says, before calling his disciples friends, not servants.
HOMILY “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”(John 15:9).
I have a confession – I know we are not supposed to sing in church due to the ongoing pandemic, but I often find myself quietly humming along! You too? We have such beautiful music and liturgy it is hard not to! Today’s beautiful words from the Gospel according to John have a lovely musical quality about them and I think form a hymn of love. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” our Lord teaches his disciples. John 15:9-10 contains a command and a promise. In verses 9 and 10, we are commanded to “abide in my love.” The promise in these verses is “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” The first step to understanding both the command and the promise is to understand the meaning of the key words of “abide” and “love.” The Greek word for “abide” is meno - it means “to remain” or “to stay.” In other words, remain in a place – be faithful, stay put. The Greek word for love in both verses is agape. (or Agapao being the verb form of the noun agape). This is the highest form of love, it is selfless, like Jesus’ love for us when he died upon the cross – the innocent victim, the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away our sins, our failings.
In this context our Lord asks his disciples to remain rooted, placed in his faithful love. Now love is a popular theme in scripture, and one example from the Old Testament is the Song of Songs (or in Hebrew, shiyr hashiyrim – see 1:1). The title refers to King Solomon who was wise and a beloved leader of Israel. And these words were almost certainly meant to be sung, the ‘Song of songs’ the repetition of the word song suggesting it is the greatest song of all. Such emphasis can be found in other biblical passages. We may think of the Holy of Holies - the most sacred site in Judaism, being the inner sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem (Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple – see Hebrews 9: 1-14) where the Tabernacle and bread of the presence were located, hidden from sight by a veil.
Here in this beautiful Church, where prayers have been said and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for over a century, we reserve the consecrated elements in the tabernacle which is veiled atop the High Altar. The bread and wine are kept so those unable to come to worship can still receive communion at home, or in hospital. This place is holy, a place to be rooted, where we Abide in the love of Christ. Here in our worship the very presence of Jesus dwells among us in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, just as he promised. This is our holy, holy place, where love is made manifest and we, the family of faith call St Mary’s our spiritual home. And once we could sing all about it, and one day soon we will once again.
Our lips may be silent, but our hearts continue singing with the angels of heaven and communion of saints, “Holy, holy, holy Lord,” as we give thanks for all that God has done for us. Our lives must never cease to praise the one who meets us and offers us eternal life. For we have something very wonderful, something worthy of love, something to sing about, something to share – this is a place to be rooted – to abide, and from which to grow. Today we will gather in person and via the wonders of technology on zoom, to reflect upon a most extraordinary year past; a time when our lives have been turned upside down and inside out, when almost everything seems to have changed. We have lost beloved members of our family and friends, we are bereaved and unreconciled to what we have experienced, we have lost jobs and we may find it hard to still sing love’s song, or even to be here - we may live in fear.
So, what does it really mean to abide in the love of Christ, to sing of love in today’s world when there is so much challenge and suffering all about? First, I am so thankful for all of you who have kept our church alive and active throughout this past period of struggle. It hasn’t been easy, but you are just wonderful people, and it is a privilege to serve among you as your priest and to know your heartfelt and genuine love too. You are a blessing. I have certainly tried my best to walk with you through this time, as have Gerard and Jo. Thank you for your patience and trust in us. We are all the richer that you are here or have joined us here at St Mary’s this year - welcome. Together we follow our Lord’s command to abide in his love. But what does he mean? There is a spiritual significance at the heart of the word “abide.” As is often the case, verses 5-6 just before today’s reading (about the vine and the branches) can help us understand. “I am the vine you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus teaches that the person who abides in him will produce much fruit and he frequently used the concept of fruit to refer to spiritual growth and the works of the faithful who are rooted or grafted into his body – the Church. When Jesus calls on his disciples to “Abide in my love” he speaks of the eternal union of himself and the blessed Trinity of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he invites each one of us as life-long learners to participate in this love which roots us here at St Mary’s. And, as disciples, caught up in this song of love, we are then called to share what we have found with others and not keep this just for ourselves. Part of the challenge of the post covid era, when we eventually get to that, will be our need to re-grow our church family which starts with each of us sharing faith.
Remember, Jesus loves us first and we are called to love everyone else. What a joy that is, to sing of love in action, the same sacrificial love that gave up everything for us upon the cross that we may live. Lord Jesus, may we abide in your love, and be rooted in this place, grow in faith, be healed of all that has held us back this past year and then in joyful song, share your love with others that they too may sing of your glory. Alleluia! Amen.
Fr Damian Harrison Miles, May 2021.