Peter M. Carey
Sermon – 25 August 2012
St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, 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 quite often in John’s gospel – the word is abide. The word has a rich meaning of timelessness as John uses it. Earlier in John’s gospel, two followers of John the Baptist approach Jesus and ask Jesus, “where do you abide?” to which Jesus answers, “Come and see.”
He sees beyond the question of where he might be staying, and reads into their heart. He sees into their deep longing to know where they might find what Jesus has found. He sees into their deep longing where they might find that everlasting gift that Jesus is.
Of course, their question may appear no different than the merely polite and curious question of where you may live, where your office may be, where you may be living on grounds, where you go to school. However, Jesus did not let them off the hook, but saw that they were looking for something more timeless, everlasting, and ever-fulfilling than merely to know where he might be staying the night.
Even though they may not have known it, they were asking this deeper question, “Jesus where do you abide? Where can we find you? Where can we put ourselves so that we might experience the living God? Where can we go and live abundantly? Where can we abide with you?
I once offered a Bible study to a wonderful group of folks, and we had moved through much of the Old Testament and were choosing how we wanted to study the New Testament. I asked them if they wanted to look in depth at a particular Gospel, or whether they wanted to look at the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in parallel. Or, perhaps they wanted to dive into Paul’s letter to the Romans or that short and powerful letter to the Galatians. We discussed many options for awhile, and then moved to discuss why we were coming to the Bible study, what were our hopes for it. One participant in the group, far wiser than me, far more direct, said, “I am here because I want to experience the living Christ – I want to meet Jesus. Whatever we do, we should strive to experience Jesus.” He did not get distracted, he would not have asked where Jesus was laying his head, he wanted to know where Jesus abides.
Jesus does not often put up with the static and distractions in his interactions either. He cuts to the chase. Jesus is the master inviter who tells these followers to, “come and see” where I abide. 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, refreshment, welcome, safety, hospitality, 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. As the school year begins, for us to truly receive the presence of God in our lives, we have to reside and abide in the place where we are. To abide in a place means that we also need to abide with the folks around us. To abide with someone is to really “be” with them.
One of the greatest gifts available to us is the gift of another’s presence. However, I believe that we all have quite a bit of a presence deficit disorder. We are distracted, by our technology and by the chaotic nature of our lives. It is a great gift to be present, however, it is increasingly challenging.
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 can feel Christ’s presence in our lives.
Of course, to be fully present with 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 is also a gift as well. Just think of those disciples who Jesus asked to “abide with me” the night before the crucifixion. They had all received an abundance of Jesus’ own presence! They had gotten attention from Jesus over three years! And still they could not stay awake. We all falter at time to be present with those in need, and yet we can be there for one another.
So, the word abide signals 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. 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.
As we eat follow Jesus’ command to “eat my flesh and drink my blood” we do “abide in him, and he in us.” Christ has given us the gift of the real presence of him in our lives. We partake of the “bread that came down from heaven” and “the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Christ abides in us, and we in Christ. Through the gift of the Eucharist we are offered the gift of God’s presence in our lives. We are made one with God, and he is one with us. We are made one with God, we are also made one with one another. We also offer each other the gift of invitation, the gift of hospitality to others. And, so we 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!