Saturday, May 9, 2015

Abide with Me and Sing a Song of Love (Easter 6 10 May 2015)

RCL Easter 6B
10 May 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  John 15.9-17
            Almost one hundred and seventy-five years ago the English priest, Henry Francis Lyte, left his parish in Devonshire in a vain attempt to restore his health in the south of France.  He would never see England again.  At some point prior to his departure, some say many years before, others the same year of his departure and death, Lyte wrote a hymn that has been sung ever since by Christians of many traditions.  Some of us may know the first verse by heart.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me. [1]

These days the hymn is most often used at evening prayer and, because of later verses, at funerals.  But no matter when it is used, the hymn strikes a sympathetic chord in most hearts.
            ‘Abide’ is an almost archaic verb to our contemporaries, especially the younger generation.  More often than not the weaker verb ‘stay’ is used, but it does not convey the same idea as ‘abide’.  To ‘abide’ with someone or something means ‘to make one’s home with, to dwell with’.  To say that we cannot ‘abide’ someone or something means that we do not have ‘a relationship of trust, knowledge, love [or] unity’ with that person or situation. [2]  ‘Stay with me’ is a command that I might use with my dog, ‘abide with me’ a request I might make of a friend, a trusted confidant, someone in whose presence I feel most at home.
            In today’s gospel Jesus, speaking to his disciples on the night before he was handed over to suffering and death, says, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  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.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’ (John 15.9-11)  We are to make our home, our ‘abode’ in the love shown to us by God in Jesus of Nazareth.
            That love is not a romantic love; it is not a feeling.  It is a choice ‘. . . to be for another and to act for another, even at cost to oneself.’ [3]  While it is natural for a mother or father to have love for her or his child, the love that God shows us in Jesus is deeper.  While it is commendable that friends offer each other constant support and encouragement, the love that God shows us in Jesus is deeper.  God’s love is the love that chooses to bring creation into being, even though God takes the risk of creating beings who can choose to love or to hate, to heal or to wound, to give life or to deal death.  The love that God has for us, the love that led God to create all things, visible and invisible, animate and inanimate, is a love that risks everything in the hope of gaining everything.
            Many of us have known a glimpse of such love in our families.  Without the self-giving love and support of my parents I would not have achieved any of the goals that I set for myself when I was younger.  But I must confess that the love shown to me by my parents was matched by the love shown to me by the community of faith to which we belonged.  The people of Saint Michael the Archangel, the parish in which I grew up, never failed to encourage me, to endure my mistakes and to rejoice in my successes.
            I believe that the love of my parents and the love of my parish ‘abided’ in the love that God has made known and continues to make known to us.  Because of what God has done for us in time and space, we cannot help but choose to be people who find their dwelling-place in the compassion, generosity and self-sacrifice made visible in the life and teaching of Jesus.  Another hymn that I love begins with this verse:

My life flows on in endless song
above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing? [4]

            Today, across North America and elsewhere, people will be feting their mothers and other women that have shaped the lives of others.  It is well and good that we should remember them and, next month, remember the fathers and other men who have done the same.  But for many of our neighbours these celebrations of self-giving love will fade until next year and the great consumer machine begins churning again.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are not places to ‘abide’.
            But here in this place, where the love of God is proclaimed every day and every week, here is a place to ‘abide’, to dwell in the love of the Holy One.  May the Love that drew us here draw others, so that the Song can keep singing.

[1] ‘Abide with Me’, Common Praise #24.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl A. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year:  Year B (Valley Forge, PA:  Trinity Press International, 1993), 265.

[3] Craddock 1993, 265.

[4] ‘My Life Flows On in Endless Song’, Common Praise #401.

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