Sunday, August 16, 2009

16 August 2009 - Sermon on John 6:51-58 "abide in me and I in them"

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
16 July 2009
Sermon preached at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, VA

In today’s gospel from John, Jesus proclaims that “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”

There is this somewhat old-fashioned word that crops up from time to time in John’s gospel. The word is “abide.” The word has a rich meaning in John’s gospel for it has a kind of timeless quality. Early in John’s gospel, Jesus is approached by two followers of John the Baptist who ask Jesus, “Where do you abide?” and Jesus answered, “Come and see.” On one level, they were asking where Jesus was staying, with whom was he a guest; where could they find him? However, on a deeper level, which they themselves may not have realized, they were asking, “Jesus, where do you abide? Where can we find you? Where can we experience the living God? Where can we go and live more fully? Where can we abide along with you?” Jesus is the master inviter who responds, “Come and see.”

The place where Jesus abides is a place open to us. Of course, the word abide is very similar to the word “abode,” – home, household, a place of rest, of refreshment, of welcome, hospitality, growth, gratitude, thanksgiving, and repentance and conversion (metanoia).

To abide is to be present, to really be in a place, not to just pass through, but to really stay there. To abide with someone is also to really be with them. One of the greatest gifts available to us is the gift of another’s presence. When we are given the present of another’s presence we feel the blessing of that person, but also through them we feel Christ’s presence in our lives. Of course, to be fully present to another when they are in pain, suffering, or heartache can be quite a challenge. Just to sit with someone in pain can be extremely spiritually challenging, and yet also a gift as well. Just think of those disciples who Jesus asked to “abide with me” the night before the crucifixion. They had received the gift of his presence, but could not stay awake. We all falter at times to be with those in suffering, and yet we can be there for one another.

So, the word abide has much to do with a timeless quality of place – where Jesus abides is that timeless and eternal place where we might “come and see” the blessing that God has given us. Abiding in a place can point to the abode where God lives – the place that is open to us, if we cultivate the awareness of God’s presence. Also then, the word points to a sense of timeless presence, the gift of abiding alongside someone, the gift of presence to those in need, those in heartache, those in suffering.

With these two senses of abide, the one of a place, and the other of a presence, Jesus moves into an even more nuanced and even mysterious and mystical sense of abide in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. The listeners to John’s gospel (which includes us!) have begun to understand the sense that Jesus abides in a place that is open to us, and that Jesus’ presence alongside us is a presence that we can experience and sense even (and especially) when we travel along “valleys of the shadow of death.” In John 6:1-58, Jesus moves from “place” and “presence” to “essence.”

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”

In these several verses, some of the most important, and most difficult in John’s gospel, we hear the rich Eucharistic theology of the Gospel of John. In this teaching, Jesus expresses that not only can we find God through Christ in a place, not only can we experience the presence of God through Christ alongside us, but we have become one with Christ in his essence through the Eucharist. Through the mystical experience of the Eucharistic feast, we become one with Christ, and we now abide in Christ and Christ abides in us. No longer is Christ solely the teacher (of course he is that, but much more!). No longer is Christ solely the healer who offers us his presence. Christ is now embodied within each person who participates in the Eucharistic feast, and each participant is embodied in Christ.

Now this is some tricky language, and is perhaps difficult to grasp – because how could we be in Christ and Christ in us, doesn’t this then get proven wrong by modern physics and the conservation of matter and all that? Perhaps…

Think about this analogy. Go to the beach with a coke bottle. Hold the bottle under the water until it fills with salt water. Put on the cap and tie a string around it so that you can pull it back. Throw the bottle into the ocean. The ocean is in the bottle and the bottle is in the ocean. The ocean abides in the bottle and the bottle abides in the ocean. Christ abides in us and we in Christ.

(Individual – and communal)

The abiding gifts of God’s grace happens in at least three ways, as I read John’s gospel:

Christ has said to us that we might “come and see” where Christ abides, that we can actually turn and experience God’s abiding and life-giving Spirit. This gift is open to us, and Jesus, as the master-inviter, the master of “newcomers” urges us to “come and see” to read the scriptures, to live out our faith, to honor Sabbath-time and to experience the living God. The gift of “place.”

Christ has also offered us the gift of his presence in our lives, even as we walk those “valleys of the shadow of death.” God is with us, and abides with us always. The gift of “presence.”

As great as these gifts are, the clincher for me, is the gift of essence. Christ abides in us, and we in Christ. Just as the bottle was in the ocean and the ocean was in the bottle. Through the institution of the Eucharist we are offered the gift of God’s essence in our lives, and we are made one with God, as he is with us. And so, as we are made one with God, we are also made one with one another. And so, we too offer each other the gift of invitation, the gift of place, the gift of hospitality to others. And so we too offer others the gift of presence, of healing, of caregiving, for we are one in the Spirit with God, and one in the Spirit with one another.

“Those who eat my body and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”

“Come and see!”

1 comment:

  1. I loved the coke bottle analogy. But if Christ is the ocean and we are the coke bottle, who's holding the string?