As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.
Those words – words Jesus prays in our gospel today – arrive at the end of what’s known as The Farewell Discourse– the Goodbye Talk Jesus gave to his disciples just after the Last Supper on the night of his crucifixion. It draws to an end here with a prayer, and not just any prayer, but a prayer resetting the terms of reality. Both his and ours.
Very often when we pray together, we think we have to be other than we are. But, by way of this prayer, we’re to know that even though the Word Made Flesh ascended into heaven, and will one day make a place for us with him, for now the Incarnate Life of Christ continues to dwell among us because he abides in us and we in him. Not as we imagine ourselves, but as we really are.
So, imagine, then, being the disciples gathered round him in this farewell prayer. They see him – the Word made Flesh – face to face, a face they’ve come to know and love, and they see their own faces, too. (That’s important: their own particular faces.)
One thing I love about church-going is coming face to face with other people caught up in the hope of prayer. Your faces flesh out the words we say. Your faces lend incarnate weight to the prayers we offer. Together we embody our abiding life in Christ.
As you likely know, abiding is the language of the Incarnation. Abiding is how John’s Gospel expresses our deep kinship with Christ. If you’ll remember, it’s John’s Gospel that includes the memory of Jesus arranging for his mother and St. John to abide together as kin following his death. And in this farewell prayer, Jesus explains what abiding is all about.
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, . . . we are one, I in them and you in me, . . . I made your name known to them, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In those words, you can hear a reality that holds you fast and close. You can hear the truth of your own incarnate self – who you really are – expanding and flourishing within that One Body. In this prayer, Jesus gives you not only to God but also to each other, in much the same way he gave Mary and John to each other.
We might want to imagine that was an easy kinship, but I’m guessing it also came with a lot to learn because, again, we abide in Christ as we are. And we abide with others as they are. You can’t have Christ alone. The shared life is the one you inhabit.
Empathy tells you that much. When you feel the actual pain or joy of another person, you experience the truth of abiding in Christ. You have your being in God, and through Christ you also have your being in other people.
Charles Williams had a lot to say about the Incarnate life of Christ. He wrote a novel called Descent Into Hell about the dangers of avoiding reality – your own and that of other people. In it, a man named Lawrence Wentworth falls in love with a young woman named Adele. There’s a lot Wentworth doesn’t like about Adele, a lot he finds unbearable even. Especially the part about her being in love with somebody else.
Eventually, though, rather than suffer this troublesome love, Wentworth retreats from it and creates an inner life of his own making. And within that perfect fantasy, he creates an image of Adele that loves him entirely. The “Adele” he creates, though, is not made of flesh at all. She is, in the words of the author, pure “Image without Incarnation.” And this image proves easy to love because the “Adele” he creates comes without any of the things that bothered him in the [actual] “incarnation of Adele.”
Tragically, he settles for his fantasy: for a love lived only in his head. Again, in the words of the author, Wentworth “dies “to things other than himself.” It’s another way of saying, he lives only to himself. Hell is dying to things other than yourself. We need other people to wake us up to the challenging and eternal fullness of God’s incarnate life among us, present in the reality of all life.
Sometimes people use the word abide to mean put up with. Like when you hear someone say, I can’t abide her. She’s not my sort of person at all. The good news is this: abiding in Christ is not an idea. It’s an embodied reality that aims to wake you up to the strange and holy otherness of all life and all people, including you.
We abide in Christ that we might live to things other than ourselves. We abide in Christ that we might love as he loved. And this abiding in Christ asks us to risk loving actual people as they are, that we might come to see them as the mortal vessels of God’s grace on earth.
The Son made the Father’s love known to us, and he continues to make it known, so that his love may be in us. Thank goodness for that.