By Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18888306
The disciples in today’s Gospel reading ask Jesus, “where are you staying?” And Jesus responds, “come and see”. That seems to be a very everyday question and answer. And Jesus took the disciples to the place he was staying, and we are told they “remained with him that day”.
But as is usually the case in John’s Gospel, there is more going on than meets the eye. The opening of John’s gospel is like an overture, introducing the key themes that will be explored and enlarged as the gospel progresses. Where Jesus “stays”, where he “remains” is key to who he is, as John has already told us: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”. Jesus makes God known because where he “stays”, where he “remains”, is “close to the Father’s heart”.
The word, “remain” or “stay” is always the same word in Greek, menon, and is a key motif that runs through John’s Gospel. It is also translated “abide”. It’s a rich word which means being rooted, centred, solidly and persistently staying.
What we learn as we read through John’s gospel is that Jesus abides in the Father and the Father abides in him and the Spirit abides on him. But this is not just about Jesus. It’s about us, too. Jesus invites us to “come and see” and to abide with him where he is, in the Father’s heart. Our true life, where we are utterly centred and rooted and real, is in God, and Jesus opens the way for us to enter in and dwell with him.
But as well as dwelling in the Father’s heart, Jesus is also dwelling, at this moment, in a house of some kind, near the Jordan river. And in the first instance that is where the disciples go to be with Jesus, little guessing the depths of the Father who is to be revealed to them by Jesus in due course.
Jesus abides in God, but he also abides in the here and now, in the concrete world of everyday life. John even tells us the time, that it is about four o clock in the afternoon. The disciples have to be with Jesus where he is, and be attentive to him, if they are to be drawn into the life of God which is where Jesus deeply and eternally abides.
Jesus unites the heart of God in eternity and our human life in the here and now. Because Jesus abides both in the Father and in the world, the two no longer stand apart.
Jesus says, abide in me. That’s the key – abiding in Jesus is where we begin to be present to God and so to ourselves. In him we begin to live truly, deeply and abidingly.
And Jesus continues to extend to his disciples his invitation, “come and see”. Jesus invites the disciples to come and dwell with him, not only for themselves, but so that they can also bring others.
The Church continues that invitation in the world. The Church is called to abide in Jesus, and to bring others to him as well. Jesus makes this possible through two great gifts: the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.
At the end of John’s Gospel the risen Christ sends the disciples, “as the Father sent me, so I send you”, and breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that Jesus received at his baptism. The Holy Spirit raises us to the life of God, and sends us into the world with that invitation for all, come and see, come and abide in God. The Spirit is constantly sending the Church, constantly renewing the Church in its mission.
And in his teaching at Capernaum Jesus had promised the gift of the Eucharist. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” We see that word “abide” again. Like Jesus himself, the Eucharist unites the local and particular with the eternal. It is in this time and place that real people really gather, and share the bread and wine that are transformed by the Spirit’s power into the life-giving body and blood of Christ.
Through the Eucharist, this time and place is united with all times and places, making present in them the one atoning sacrifice of Christ. The Eucharist is nothing less than the work of the world’s salvation, gathering up and redeeming everything in Christ. Our human fragmentation is overcome. We are made one body in Christ, we share one life. And this also makes us one with the Church in all the world. Here our abiding in God, in Christ, is made real in the world.
We need to grasp both these dimensions of the call of Jesus: both sending us into the world bearing his invitation into the heart of God, and gathering in time and space to make that abiding in God real in the Eucharist.
In the Church of today we are increasingly aware that the Eucharistic core of the Church by itself is not enough. To many people church and liturgy are an alien culture. If the first thing Jesus had said to those first two disciples was, “come to a Solemn High Mass”, they would have wondered what he was going on about. But instead he says, “come and see”; the fullness of what that means will unfold for the disciples as they abide with Jesus. It is right that the church reaches out in many ways beyond the confines of traditional church buildings and services. There are many “fresh expressions” that seek to do this, and they are needed and welcome.
But if the Eucharistic heart of the Church by itself is not enough, it is equally true that it is not enough just to go out to meet people where they are on the margins of faith. The invitation that Jesus gives us is always to the centre, not to the edges. In eternity the centre is the Father’s heart where Jesus eternally abides. In time and space the centre is the Eucharistic heart of the Church, where the Holy People of God faithfully do the thing that Jesus told us to do, through which he promises that he will abide in us and we in him.
Once again, we need to grasp both these dimensions of the call of Jesus. Both going out to where the people are, and gathering into the centre where Jesus abides in the Father and we in him. Churches like ours which are more traditional and Eucharist-focussed need to embrace the challenge of new forms and expressions that take the good news of Jesus out to where the people are. And newer forms and expressions need to be careful that they do not lose hold of the centre to which Jesus calls us, that they do not simply settle down on the edges where the people are and think that is enough.
The Eucharist sends us as well as gathering us together. At the end we are dismissed with the words, “Go in the peace of Christ”. We are to go out into the world inhabiting the peace of Christ, carrying his invitation to all to come and dwell with him in the Father’s heart. Every Mass recommissions us and sends us with that goal. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And Jesus said, “come and see.”