April 28, 2024
Easter 5


“Abide in me …  because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Please be seated.

For as long as Christians have been gathering their own collection of sacred writings, people have detected similarities between what we think of as the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John. In fact, although the author of today’s Letter is not named, some people have figured that it was the same as the one who wrote the Gospel.

Both are written in the common dialect of Greek called Koine Greek. Koine means Common. The language was common around the Mediterranean and was in use for something short of a thousand years, for centuries before Jesus and centuries after.

So, today’s second reading and Gospel are written in the same language, with a very similar vocabulary. And the word we translate as “abide”, which appears a whole bunch of times in today’s second reading and again in today’s Gospel, is an excellent example of common language. But in the original, this is not holy language or sacred language or churchy language. This was the language of everyday people doing everyday things in a vast area around the Mediterranean. Like English, Koine often served as a common language for people who spoke other things.

Now, the word we translate as “abide” appears 40 times in the Gospel of John and 24 times in the First Letter of John. That’s about half the number of times it appears in the whole of the New Testament. But again, it was a very common non-churchy word in Greek. The word in Greek was méno and it could mean to “remain,” to “stay,” to “dwell,” to “be present,” to “continue to be present,” to “continue to exist,” to “persist,” to “be held”, to “be kept,” or even to “keep on keeping on,” as one theologue put it. So, when Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark — Different Gospel! — famously asked the disciples to wait around while he prayed, this is the same word. “Remain” here while I go up yonder to pray. Méno in Mark’s Greek.

Now, did you hear it? The English word re-main shares the same ancient root as the Greek méno. You have to go back an awfully long way to find it. But it’s there!

Back to John and the First Letter of John. Here the word méno gets used in the holy and theologically fuzzy sense of our remaining in God or in Jesus while God or Jesus remains in us.  Rather than sort it out and nail it down, with a more refined translation, contemporary scholars use the word “abide,” more or less precisely to preserve the fuzziness. Abide is evocative. It’s not used in common English. And because we only ever use the word abide in church, we end up with a churchy word translating what was once a common word which had a whole bunch of meanings.

Now while the two Johns share some vocabulary, they do not share the same grammar. They are not, to my mind, the same people whoever they might have been or whatever they might have been called.  We call him –it was always a “him”—we call him John. Also Greek, “God is gracious.” Good enough for God. Good enough for me. All of this to say, both readings share an overlapping sense of the abiding of God and of God’s people. And abide, in our Sunday holy language, comes to mean something like “to remain faithful”. To remain faithful in the face of forces which might draw us away from God. God remains faithful to us / in us while we remain faithful to God / in God. Back in Mark, Jesus was saying something like keep faith with me here while I go off to pray. Maybe a little more than simply remain. And our Good Friday sad story is that the disciples weren’t very good at keeping faith with Jesus. Now where does this leave us. Three things among today’s two abide-loving readings. 

  1. I like “abide.’ It’s got real-worldly roots. John –whichever John– doesn’t use special language. He uses / they use common language which becomes special in the world of faith. To “remain faithful” has deep-in-the-earth roots but blossoms and flourishes in our world of faithful living. How so?
  2. Well, as one of the John’s puts it, “Love is something to be perfected.” I love the word “perfected”. Elsewhere in the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews written by another un-named scribe, Jesus is described as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. Perfecter. Perfected. Love, like faith, is a work in progress. Not yet perfect. You and I are works in progress. Our love is a work in progress. A work in progress describes our abiding in God and God’s abiding in God’s people. To abide is a work in progress. We do not yet know what we shall be, according to First John. To abide in God and God in us is a work in progress. I like that very much as a description of who we are as individuals but, perhaps even more, as a community. We are living into what we shall yet be. Which takes me to a third point.
  3. (1) “Abiding” is real-worldly. (2) To “abide” in God is a work in progress. (3) “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” You cannot abide in God without affording your sisters and brothers the same love God affords you and you afford God. So, abiding in God, this work in progress, takes us in the direction of loving our neighbours. I like that, too. 

Christians will be known by their good works of love — neighbourly love. Love for all — And who is my neighbour? — kinds. Love even for our planet, our neighbour Creation, as Preston hinted as possibility a week or two ago.

I have said before, that the heart of the Gospel, for me, is the business of loving our God as central to life and loving our neighbours as ourselves as a working out of our salvation. I take Jesus at his word on that. And I think, the people who wrote todays Gospel and today’s second reading are giving that truth their own spin in their own writerly and holy ways.

The line I quoted at the beginning of this sermon — “Abide in me …  because apart from me you can do nothing.”— is an interesting phrase because it holds an emphasis on doing. Abiding yields doing. Doing is informed by our abiding. The faith of the various John’s is practical; like their words. It is concerned with doing God’s work in the world. Our love for our neighbour is an extension of our love for God which is a response to God’s love for us. And I like that, too!

Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

André Lavergne CWA (The Rev.)
Honourary Assistant, 
Church of St. John the Evangelist, Kitchener