A sermon preached by Andrew McKearney at St Mary’s, Iffley on Sunday 14th May 2023
The gospel reading this evening is taken from St John’s gospel chapter 14. It happens each year at this point in the Easter season that the Gospel readings at church are no longer taken from the resurrection stories as such. Instead, were taken back, back to the last supper, back to four long and complex chapters in St John’s gospel, referred to often as the Farewell Discourses.
So, what’s the thinking behind this?
Firstly, we’re taken back to these chapters in John’s Gospel because at one level they mirror where we are in the Easter story – saying ‘goodbye’ and parting as we lead up to Ascension Day which we celebrate this Thursday. The place where these themes are explored in the gospels is in these Farewell Discourses round the meal table at the last supper, when Jesus is about to ‘go away’ to be crucified.
However, there’s also a deeper reason.
These four chapters of St John’s gospel are probably best understood not as the actual teaching given by the historical Jesus at the last supper, but as the teaching of the risen Christ, alive and active in the minds and hearts of the early Christians as they reflected on Christ’s life and teaching, plumbing those depths that they knew to be there in his life and thought.
The 40 days of Easter tell a story of assimilation. Soon the disciples won’t need Christ’s physical presence with them, nor will they need the appearances of the risen Christ because the spirit of the risen Christ is now alive in their hearts and lives.
A word that recurs on a number of occasions as you read these chapters in St John’s gospel is the word ‘abide’:
‘Abide in me, as I abide in you.’
‘Abide in my love.’
And as we just heard:
‘You know him, because he abides with you,
and he will be in you.’
Early on in my ministry we lived in Scotland for a while and in the areas where we lived, they had a phrase that they used to refer to the person who was your partner, your boyfriend or your girlfriend. The phrase sounded like a phrase from these chapters in St John’s gospel.
If you wanted to refer to your live in lover, they were your ‘bidey-in’.
So, if Sarah and I hadn’t been married but were living together, then she would have been my ‘bidey-in’ and I would have been hers; my live in lover, the person with whom I abided.
Whenever I read these passages in St John’s gospel, I always think how appropriate that is; that the Spirit is our ‘bidey-in’, the one who abides with us; our live in lover.
We also heard the Spirit referred to as another Advocate, and elsewhere St John calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter, or Counsellor or Helper – it’s hard to know which word best conveys the meaning of the Greek word that St John uses, so different translations use different words.
But whichever word is used, ‘You know him’ we’re told, ‘because he abides with you, and he will be in you’.
These chapters in St John’s gospel are some of the most precious in the whole New Testament, because they draw us into a deep place of intimacy with God:
‘I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!