13 May 2010/Easter 6B-John 15:9-17 - The Reverend Kirk A Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills
O God, you prepare for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire. (Collect for Easter 6)
This is not only our prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Looked at, listened to, more closely, it is our Lord’s prayer for us. Our Gospel (John 15: 9-17) takes us back to Maundy Thursday. From the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, this is where it all begins for those of us who would be the church – be the church. Unfortunately the word “church” comes freighted with much baggage – such that we need to cleanse or prune it of all meaning we ordinarily attach to it. Jesus, though not using the word “church” means that community of persons who abide in him as he abides in the Father – as branches and fruit abide on a vine.
From the thirteenth chapter of John through the seventeenth chapter Jesus says and does things meant to comfort a community in crisis – a community facing enormous loss, a community that will see its “friend,” its savior, die upon a cross. They will witness the pouring out of His blood as a sign of his love for a sinful and broken world. These five chapters constitute the Last Supper for John the Evangelist, and despite no mention of bread or wine, these chapters constitute an invitation to communion with Christ and with one another that transcends all prior association of tribe, family, neighborhood, nation, and even what we usually mean by the word “church.”
The cleansing of the foot washing, the cleansing of Holy Baptism, and the pruning of the vine, allowing God to remove from our midst that which does not and cannot bear fruit, inevitably results in loss which in turn results in pain. What is meant here is not the loss of loved ones and friends in Jesus, but allowing God in Christ to remove all that separates us from the Love of God in Christ, that which our Book of Common Prayer calls “sinful desires.” (BCP p 302)
To that end what is imagined in our collect prayer, and what is imagined in chapters 13-17 in John, is for us to recognize that if we are to be a church at all, which I believe most of us if not all of us see as coming dangerously close to be slipping away from those of us who call ourselves St. Peter’s, if we are to be a church at all we need to allow God in Christ to remove, prune, cleanse all illusions that we are in control, that we make the church what it is, that we know what love is and how it should be manifested.
We are in the midst of the very hard work of mourning a tragic disruption of our life as a community of Jesus’ friends, and the even more tragic loss of two of our Lord’s closest friends. And yet, if we will really listen to our Lord’s so-called Farewell Discourse, we must come to the realization that our first duty, the first commandment is to abide in Jesus. We must accept the fact that we are not here by choice, but by his choosing us to be His people. It is He who goes to every length to pour His love into our hearts so that we might abide in him – dwell in Him. We accept this Love he pours into us so that we might dwell in Him and He in us.
To do this means that we must allow Him to cleanse and prune away all that gets in the way – that is all of our desires since what He is promising exceeds all that we can desire or imagine. Begging the question: what are we willing to give up to once and for all Be His Church? Just when will we let go of all our notions of “shurch” and abide in Him? Because until we let go of it all and abide in Him and in Him only, we do not have the capacity to obey his second command which of course is to Love one another – to love one another as He loves the Father and the Father loves Him. That is, Abiding in his Love precedes the very possibility of loving one another as He loves us. This “loving one another” is no mere Kumbaya hugging of one another, and not simply putting up with one another. This “loving one another” is very demanding work, surpassing even the hard work of processing and accepting all that has just happened to us this past week.
As I struggle to put this into words, I find myself coming closer to understanding why such passages in the Fourth Gospel are so difficult to read and to understand – so seemingly convoluted. And yet, what is being given to us this day in the Word of God holds as much promise as it holds challenges. In fact, it holds much more promise than the challenges this Word places on our hearts this morning. Note that Jesus says these things so that His joy may be in us and that our Joy may be full. Note carefully that this is meant to be for us as his community, not so much us as individuals. In fact it is true that any notion of any one person being an “individual” did not really exist in the first century. All persons were understood to be part of a tribe, family, clan or association -what began as a community of his followers and became the church.
Jesus transcends all such affiliations, which we may as well admit exist as factions within his One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. He is saying, unless allow Him to prune away all such factions among us, we cannot possibly be One as he and the Father are One. It is painful to give up such affiliations since we believe we derive some sense of pleasure and identity from them. Not to do so, however, is much more painful. Jesus promises more than any affiliation can give, more than we desire – and face it, we desire an awful lot.
As I have been led to say all week, remembering Mary-Maraguerite and Brenda means allowing them to dispel a little of our darkness and draw us closer to the Light – the Light of Christ – of Christ who says later in this farewell discourse, “you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy….So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20&22)
He is here. We are here to see him in the bread and in the wine, in his Body and his Blood. He invites us, chooses us, to abide in Him. Before we can “do” anything, we must Be – we must Be in Him, abide in Him so that he may abide in us. We must dwell in Him so that He may dwell amongst us. All joy, all peace, and all that we can do or say must flow out of such an indwelling of Jesus in our midst here and now. The former things must pass away for the new to come into being. We are no longer servants but friends so that we may abide in Him and Love one another. His love is being poured into our hearts here and now so that we might obtain his promises which exceed all that we can desire. The time is now to love Christ in all things and above all things so that He, by the power of His Holy Spirit, might help us and heal us and turn our sorrow into Joy. We cannot do it ourselves. We can, however, allow him to fill our hearts with His love.
We can abide in Him. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!