One of the loveliest things in the world is to encounter the joy of a new Christian; here is someone whose life has been transformed by their experience of the love of God; you see the smile; you sense the glow; for them the world is charged with this love and everything makes sense as never before.
You feel such happiness and concern for them. It can make you remember a joy you experienced in your own faith journey. You too may remember a ‘conversion moment’ when everything connected and your heart was warmed with exuberance and delight: it was as if the world was fresh and heaven lay before you!
You remember! And with that memory comes a pang of longing; where is that joy now? And no wonder we fear for this new Christian; how long will it be before their joy fades; before they hit the dead end of lovelessness and joylessness that lies coiled in the well of some ‘believers’, and despair?
What can one say? What warning might you give? What is the wisdom that must be shared that will provide a guide, a road map, for the journey of faith that lies ahead? This is the question at the heart of this section of the gospel; this is what Jesus has to prepare his disciples for, the moment when he leaves.
He begins with reassurance. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;” He speaks out of the deep well of the inner life of God; he speaks out of the infinity of the cosmos that is created, charged and sustained by love. How immeasurable is this love? There is no way it can be grasped or comprehended; this love within the Trinity; this love that is between the Father and the Son. (Images in the parable of the Prodigal son cf Luke 15)The sheer inexhaustible uncontainability of this love explodes into the universe – and hence the story of creation as John tells it: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” It’s also as if there is hyperlink in this text that connects us right back to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the love that Jesus speaks of and that he shares with the disciples. This is the love they are to ‘abide in”. The outcome of this love is joy “ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
The Greek word for abide is “menō” and means “to remain in, to tarry, to not depart from” so when Jesus tells us to abide in Him we are to remain in Him and not to depart from Him. The word “abide” is close to the English word “abode” which means a dwelling place or where we live. If we are in Christ, we are abide with Christ. We are in relationship with Christ and all relationships need commitment and attention. We work at it; in prayer, bible reflection and through the sacraments, all of that; and yes, that commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”
Now don’t let the thought of joy quite escape you. It is not lost and it will return. Love changes us. But ‘friends’ is the word that captures my heart. Jesus says we are his friends – and in truth I love the Society of Friends, the Quakers, but to know ourselves as the friends of God is a new dynamic to abiding in Christ.
In that spirit I want to share with you a wonderful moment in one of my favourite novels, Graham Green’s Monsignor Quixote (1982), a complex pastiche of a novel which tells of a parish priest who becomes a Monsignor and then, travelling with his nonbelieving sceptical communist friend, the mayor of his parish of El Toboso, so gets into trouble that he is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments. At the end, injured in an accident, Monsignor Quixote celebrates Mass (though forbidden) but without bread or wine, chalice or paten, and gives communion:
“… ‘Companero’, he said, ‘you must kneel, Companero.’ He came forward three steps with two fingers extended, and the Mayor knelt. Anything which will give him peace, he thought, anything at all. The fingers came closer. The Mayor opened his mouth and felt the fingers, like a Host, on his tongue. ‘By this hopping,’ Father Quixote said, ’by this hopping,’ and then his legs gave way. The Mayor had only just time to catch him and ease him to the ground. ‘Companero,’ the Mayor repeated the word in his turn, ‘this is Sancho,’ and he felt over and over again without success for the beat of Father Quixote’s heart”. (p.217)
‘Companero’, I think can be translated as ‘friend’ - and the Mayor is changed by this friendship, by abiding in this love.
And you and I, all of us, can know the joy of God as we share in the simple but inexhaustible action of sharing with our Lord as we take bread (This is my body) and share wine (This is my blood). “You are my friends if you do what I command you”