The past year has been one hand washing, mask wearing and of staying at home. The first two of these requirements have been a bit of a nuisance, but not too demanding. For many of us though, the third, ‘stay at home’, has been a real challenge. We have missed friends and family, and have become isolated, lonely and, sometimes, bored.
In today’s passage, Jesus asks to ‘abide’ in his love, and this is exactly the same meaning as those all too familiar words, ‘stay at home’. We are to stay with Jesus, not just for a year, but for a lifetime. We are called to faithfulness in a dogged sort of way which requires our whole being, our whole will. We are to stay in our spiritual home – in Jesus. This sounds extremely daunting and, indeed, there is no indication that this will be easy, but for the fact that we are called to abide in love; in Jesus’ love. Imagine Jesus’ love for us as a house: that’s where we are asked to stay. We are to stay at home in God’s love
The wonderful thing is that we are promised a relationship with Jesus which springs from, and mirrors Jesus’ relationship with his Father. ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.’
But here is that tiny word with such a powerful meaning: ‘if’. There is a qualification attached to this ‘abiding’, this ‘stay at home’. We have to keep God’s commandments. This is a big ‘if’. We think of all the things that we’ve been told God demands of us, many of which are entirely fabricated: God has never asked us to be nice, polite, respectful, upright or pious. As Jesus speaks to us from the pages of John’s Gospel, we are asked simply to love.
There is something of great importance here. Love has consequences: if we love, our behaviour changes. If you look up ‘Christian Values’ on the internet, what you find is pages and pages of church school vision statements with long lists of expected behaviour framed in terms of Christian values. I’m sure these are all well intentioned, but what is missing is the simple but indispensable source of all this good behaviour: love. Without love these ‘values’ have the capacity to become a series of rules, or even a form of social control. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be polite; he asks us to love.
This makes our moral lives very alive and dynamic: if we love we may well be nice and polite, or respectful and generous. But we could equally well be outspoken, difficult and challenging, withholding our support.
So you can see that our faith, based on the requirement to love, is much more than following social convention. It is something alive in every moment, in every circumstance, and it is something built on abiding in our home, abiding in Jesus Christ.
Preparing a funeral leaflet on Friday afternoon, the relatives wishing to have the full texts of the readings included, I found myself typing out words from John Chapter 14: ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you.’ Later, when I proofread the document I found that I had typed ‘I am going to prepare a palace for you.’ This may have been a ‘typo’, but it does have some truth in it: what we are offered isn’t a utilitarian box with no windows, no door, no comfy chairs, no wallpaper. We are offered a wonderful place, a veritable palace of love, a palace with many rooms to explore, filled with things of delight and mystery. This is the palace of love: this is where Jesus asks us to abide: this is our home.Tweet