A reflection for Easter V Sunday 28th April 2024 by the Rev'd David Warnes

On a short visit to Edinburgh many years ago, long before I lived in the city, I fell into conversation with a local who asked me:

“Where do you stay?”

I wasn’t then familiar with the Scots use of that verb “stay” and when I replied:

“The Old Waverley Hotel”.

the person with whom I was chatting looked completely baffled.

I was of course being asked where I lived, not where I was staying, and in those days the correct answer would have been Ipswich. Edinburgh was then a place I was passing through. Ipswich was my settled residence, the place of my abiding. 

Jesus uses the word “abide” no fewer than eight times in today’s Gospel passage and the word is also found six times in today’s Epistle.  The Greek verb meno – I abide – occurs three times in Matthew’s Gospel, twice in Mark, six times in Luke and a surprising thirty-three times in St John’s Gospel. 

Sometimes St John seems to be using the word in the ordinary sense, for example in          Chapter 1, Andrew and another disciple of  John the Baptist encounter Jesus first time and ask him:

“Rabbi where are you staying?”

to which Jesus replies

“Come and see”

“Where are you staying?” sounds rather mundane, yet there’s a hint here of important truths that are unfolded later in the Gospel. Discipleship is about abiding in Jesus and Jesus’ own abiding place is profoundly important. We discover the nature of that abiding place when Jesus tells Philip:

“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.”

And in today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples”

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

He makes the idea of abiding very vivid by using a word-picture of himself as a vine and inviting his followers to be grafted on to him. 

“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Taken together the three sayings I have just quoted make the point that abiding in Jesus who himself abides in God links us to God and nourishes us. 

The word-picture of Jesus as the true vine would have had a vivid immediacy to the disciples for they all knew about the growing of grapes and the grafting of grape vines. I wonder what word-picture Jesus would have used had the Incarnation happened in 21st century Edinburgh. A possibility occurred to me the other day when I reached for the mop and bucket which we store in the cupboard under the stairs. Another thing that lives there, because there happens to be a phone socket, is our modem. It links us to the outside world. We can send and receive emails, stream music, watch classic sitcoms on TV. It works because we are plugged into it, and it is plugged into the vast resources of the internet. And there, perhaps, we reach the limit of the usefulness of this metaphor, for not all of those resources are wholesome or benign. Yet I think it’s a helpful metaphor because the traffic is two-way and it depends on us being plugged in. 

That’s not the view of religious faith that most of our contemporaries have. They see it more in terms of subscribing to theological propositions and obeying moral rules, and those things, important though they are, are secondary to faith itself. Archbishop William Temple made this point well in his Readings in St John’s Gospel:

“Our discipline is not a bracing of our wills to conformity with a law; it is the maintenance of communion with the Lord to the point of immutable indwelling.”

“the maintenance of communion with the Lord to the point of immutable indwelling”

Indwelling, abiding or, to go back to the modem metaphor, being connected and staying connected; being connected and staying connected to the God who loves us. 

Today’s Epistle is a call to Christian love and in it, St John tells his readers:

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

And there’s that word “abide” again, that call to get connected and stay connected to the source of love itself. 

St John’s Gospel offers guidance on how to stay connected, how to abide. In chapter 8 we read:

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

And the Greek word that is translated as “continue” in that verse is the same word that elsewhere is translated as “abide”. Staying connected involves reflecting on all that we know of Jesus from the Gospels.

In chapter 6 Jesus says:

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”

And we are reminded that when we make our communion we are connected with Christ, nourished  by him and connected also one with another. 

So the very structure of this service – the Word read and reflected upon, the Eucharist celebrated and Communion received – builds and strengthens that connection, that abiding. But that’s not an invitation to be stationary. The Jesus of whom we read in the Gospels is a man on the move, and abiding with him, being connected with him involved the first disciples in moving with him, moving out of their comfort zones. That’s a point that Rowan Williams made in a conference address in 2007.

“Disciples were people called away from home because they must be where their master is. And that is never going to be comfortable; but perhaps it becomes intelligible when one realizes…that the home where you will finally realize who and what you are is the home, the place prepared for you, by Jesus.”

We come here week by week to strengthen our connection with, our abiding in, Jesus and to abide in Jesus is to commit to a journey that may at times be difficult and uncomfortable, but whose destination is the full realization of ourselves.