I’m home alone. La Donna is in Albuquerque with her aunt and uncle, catching up and getting ready for whatever might be next as she is executor of their estate. Rhys is off helping move a playground at church, and then hopefully going to lunch with friends, as there is nothing he enjoys more than eating out, instead of leftovers with dad. Which is fine, it’s great. I like being alone. It lets me write without interruption. I’m enjoying being alone. Well, alone with a neurotic dog who barks at shadows, and a cat with ADHD who simply can’t settle for more than a few seconds before she has to launch herself off to new horizons, and another cat who is convinced she’s unjustly imprisoned inside when the back yard beckons. This is us, alone together. This is how we go, today at least.
Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
“As you go,” He said, a way of living, a way of being, of sharing the essence of yourself. That’s what it is to disciple another, sharing the essence. The methodology is simple, He said, baptize and teach. Baptize, offer a new identity, a new understanding of self and one’s place in the world. Teach, share life as you learned it, are learning it. But then something else. One more thing, He says, one more action word, one more verb by which we live our lives as we go. Remember. That’s it? Just remember? Remember what? “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Remember that you are heading somewhere - to the end of the age, which is the beginning of a new age, a new kingdom, a new way of living, that same way that you are learning to live now. You’re learning to live in a new world, the one you are heading toward. The end and the beginning. Remember that you are heading someplace. But also, remember you don’t go alone. “I am with you.” Remember, you’re heading somewhere, and you don’t go alone.
John 15:1-5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus is on his way out. On his way to suffering and death and life and ascension. Out. Away. Apart from them. And he knew it and told them. Over and over he told them. I wonder did they not get it? Did they just glaze over whenever he talked about that departure? Did they live each day of their new and exciting lives thinking that it was always going to be like this? Probably. Do any of us imagine life without us in it? Only on our sad days. And if we try to talk to those we love about this departure, they won’t want to hear. I can see a field full of disciples with fingers in their ears loudly singing “la la la la, I can’t hear you!!” when Jesus started his the Son of Man will be lifted up to die routine.
But he knew it. He knew it as sure as he knew he was breathing now. And he faced it with the same confidence with which he faced drawing that first ragged breath in a barn in Bethlehem. With the same sense of presence that he faced when he rose from the muddy waters of the Jordan with a beaming John the Baptism trembling beside him. With the same sense of possibility and responsibility that brought a sigh out of him when he healed in the face of doubt, or the groan that came when he tossed out a demon that thought it was secure with claws deep in the human psyche. He knew what was next, and he wanted to prepare them. Abide in me, he told them, as an antidote to his absence. Abide in me.
Wait. What? He was leaving so he wanted them to abide in him? What? Did he mean that the time is short, get your abiding in while abiding is possible? Or worse, was it a “look what you missed! You should have gotten closer! You should have taken up residence, you should have gotten on board, you should have been on the team!” But now the game is over. The clock is ticking. The last second shot will probably fall short, as they do more often than not. And you will have missed it. Too bad for you. I’m on my way out. You could have had more. You could have been a contender. But no.
No. That can’t be it. Jesus didn’t taunt in that way. Jesus wept for missed opportunities, yes. But he didn’t wag his finger at those who just didn’t get it. No, this had to be a real opportunity, a real commandment. Like the other commandment that is about to come in a few more verses, the love one another one. That wasn’t a taunt. Neither is this. Abide in me. Not you should have, you could have, but you didn’t abide in me. No, there is still time, the clock hasn’t yet run out. Abide. Get in there and abide, there is still hope, we are still alive.
But how? Jesus is annoyingly short on detail, even as he is rich in imagery. Vines and branches, fruit and gardeners: there is a secret here. Not a hidden code, but a obvious puzzle that if we could but glimpse it, then it would explode in our consciousness like a lightning bolt. It doesn’t need a degree in ancient languages, but an ah ha moment that unfolds the truth that was always there.
Look again, abide in me as I abide in you. As I abide in you. He’s leaving, but He’s not leaving. He is with us, even to the end of the age. Which means we are with Him come hell or high water, when the chips are down or our ship has come in. We are with Him and He is with us. We remember, He told us to remember, remember Him and the life He lived, and the part He played. We remember the divine drama which is acted out as a historical remembrance. Except that it isn’t an historical remembrance. It is the rhythm of our faith. Christ comes to us and we shout for joy, and ask Him to save us, because Christ comes to us. To us. And with tears streaming down our faces we embrace Him and hope for a new start and new opportunity and new outlook on life. And when the glow dies down and the new outlook looks a lot like the old look and takes just as much effort to hold onto, if not more; then our disillusionment grows and we look for someone to blame, a scapegoat who must be at fault for the rotten life we’ve been given, and we lash out and cast aside that which only recently seemed so full of possibility and hope, and now tastes like ashes instead of bread and wine. And we turn our backs on the One we wept over, and we flee in fear and shame and doubt. And in the darkness we feel so alone. Again, so alone. Like no one understands. Like no one is on our side. Like no one ... there’s just no one. For us. No one.
We are apart from Him, and can do nothing. Or nothing that we can do seems worth doing. Or nothing that we have done seems to amount to anything anymore. Apart from Him. Life is emptier. The colors are muted, the air is heavy and gravity seems stronger. Apart from Him. Nonsense? Maybe. Maybe it is my imagination, my overactive spiritual sensibilities. A little bit more time in the real world might do me some good, give me some perspective on how things really work. Sure, a little bit of Jesus is a good idea, but you can go too far. Am I right?
Unless. Unless we are heading somewhere. And we don’t want to go alone. Being alone is great for a time. And for sitting still. But traveling is better with companions. It makes it easier to stay on the path, to believe in the destination if there are those who travel alongside. When Christ told us to abide in Him, He meant in part that we stay close to the community that bears His name. That’s how we know Him, how we hear Him, through the voices of those who are also heading someplace, who also don’t travel alone.
As you go, disciple! Disciple by baptizing into a new identity and teaching about the life that you’ve been given. Oh, and remember. As you go remember that you’re heading somewhere and you don’t travel alone. Thanks be to God