Part 4: John 15:9-12: Abiding in Jesus in Marriage
Our wedding was a Eucharist service in which we celebrated communion. In traditional Eucharist liturgies, the high point of the Scripture readings is the Gospel. While anyone can read Scripture during the service, an ordained person authorized to proclaim the Gospel by the Church reads the Gospel passage. For our wedding, I asked my dad to read our Gospel passage: John 15:9-12.
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. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
In selecting this Gospel passage, we thought similarly to how we chose our third reading (see Part 3). We wanted a reading that emphasized the good news of Jesus and that His love is the source of our love for one another. This passage from St. John’s Gospel, my favorite of the Gospels, did just that. Yet it does not simply repeat what St. Paul said in Ephesians 3:14-19. St. Paul delivered a declaration of the Gospel to a local church as part of his prayer for them. John 15:9-12 is an invitation from Christ Himself.
This passage occurs in a large section of St. John’s Gospel called the Farewell Discourse. It is a large section of teaching delivered to His closest followers on the night of His betrayal and arrest before going to His crucifixion the following day. These are the final things He wants to tell them before He goes to the cross. As part of this discourse, He utilizes imagery of a vineyard. The vine image appears again in this passage. In John 15:5, Jesus compares Himself to a vine and His followers to branches. He is the source of life, sustenance, and water for the rest of the plant. If His followers disconnect from Him, they cannot bear fruit but, instead, will die. All life, all flourishing, all love flows from Jesus, the Creator, the source of all things. The command to abide is a matter of life and death.
Yet while the imperative to abide adds a sense of urgency to the passage, it is not simply a command but an invitation. The word “abide” carries the sense of “remain,” “rest,” “stay.” In Christ's command to “abide,” the Creator of the universe, the Son of God, the Word of God, simply says, “Be with me.” His invitation comes from a place of love. He speaks of abiding in His love with which He has loved us. Again, Jesus delivers these words the night before His death. The substance of His love is that Jesus faces all evil, sin, suffering, and death in our place and rises again victorious. His love is the love that truly conquers all, that makes possible eternal life with God, the hope of new creation and resurrection, and the possibility of new flourishing as wholly alive humans in the present. It is no accident that He uses the image of the vines and also uses wine, the fruit of the vine, in the communion meal as a reminder of His death for us. The wine symbolizes His blood and love poured out for us. This profound love at the center of the biblical story, the source of centuries of theological reflection, and the heart of billions of people's piety says simply, “Be with me.”
We abide in His love by obeying. As I described in Part 3, this can seem overwhelming, but it occurs in the context of a relationship with Christ Himself. His love makes obedience possible. By obeying Him, we abide in Him. The reverse is true. By abiding in Him, we can obey. The one command He gives here is to love just as He has. As we remain in Him and remain with others, we serve as conduits of His love to others. As the life of the vine sustains the branches, the branches overflow with life, growing grapes filled with water, wine, and seeds with the potential for new life. As we rest in His love, love overflows from us to others. As we show love to others, we experience His love better so we can abide more deeply in Him.
Marriage is only one way to experience this invitation. All human relationships are an opportunity to abide in the love of God. But it is a profound opportunity to dwell closely in love with another person, a relationship marked by the promise to “remain with me.” Marriage is one way Jesus says, “Be with me.” As we obey His command to love one another with the same self-sacrificial love He showed us, we learn to rest in His love more than we had before. We understand the significance of His love better as we express it to our spouse. But it is also only truly possible to live a life of total self-giving as Jesus did if we have not first heard His invitation, “Be with me.” As I spend a lifetime giving of myself and loving Anna, I will better understand how Jesus loved me. But I can only love Anna completely and wholly if I experience the love of Jesus for me. The same is true for all of the relationships in our lives. Each relationship is an opportunity to know Christ's love better, but it is also wholly dependent on His love for us.
That is part of the reason we wanted to celebrate communion as part of our marriage ceremony. We knew we needed His love to embark on this journey together, and we knew that our love for each other, celebrated at our wedding, would give us an insight into His love. We wanted to experience that as we remembered His death, celebrated His resurrection, and looked with hope to His second coming. We took the bread and drank the wine of the vine listening to the invitation, “Be with me.”
So with that, I want to conclude this series with the post-communion prayer read at the end of our service:
O God, the giver of all that is true and lovely and gracious: We give you thanks for binding us together in these holy mysteries of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Grant that by your Holy Spirit, Anna and Scott, now joined in Holy Matrimony, may become one in heart and soul, live in fidelity and peace, and obtain those eternal joys prepared for all who love you; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.