For many of us, the changing tide of the economy heaves us into the search for meaning, for the eternal. And in this search, we find Jesus having dinner with his closest friends hours before his death. During that dinner, we see a mysterious breaking of bread and drinking of wine. Two thousand years later, he calls us to that same dinner, in remembrance of him. And so we partake. The sacrament beckons us into the blessedness of following after him. “I am the true vine,” he says. And we are his branches. “Abide in Me, and I in you.” (John 15:1, 4 NASB)
When we partake of Christ through the bread and the cup, it’s as though we inhale him into our very being, carrying him around with us, his presence powering our lives. He says that if we don’t abide in him, we will be like the branches that don’t produce any fruit; they’re cut away and burned, useless, meaningless.
Apart from Christ, the world is meaningless. Apart from Jesus, we are nothing. We can do nothing. “Abide in me,” he says. “See the world from a new perspective.” But
how do we abide?
Kierkegaard helps us understand what it means to abide. He tells the story of a couple in love. The girl, seeing that her relationship with her beloved could be facing obstacles, asks him to wait for her. And he does. But what happens if the circumstances strain, making the wait too long? What if her beloved moves on? Kierkegaard says that when we cease to be loving, we were never loving in the first place. “For love abides.” (Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love (New York: HarperPerennial, 2009), 281 – 82.)
By telling the disciples (and us) to abide, Jesus is telling them to wait in him. Jesus says to them, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love . . . this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:10–12 NET)
So obedience is central to the abiding life. We’re first to obey the double commandment: love God and love one another. As we obey these two commands, we cultivate devotion and sacrifice. These are the building blocks of intimacy. Most of us understand devotion, but sacrifice is harder for us because of its demands. In John the Beloved’s gospel, we find the concept of sacrifice communicated in Jesus’ discussion with his disciples as he calls them friends: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. You are my friends . . . I no longer call you servants,” says Jesus (John 15:13–15).
For John’s Jewish readers, this distinction mattered. Servants, though loyal in relationships with their masters, didn’t share intimately with them. And the rabbis regarded only Abraham and Moses as God’s friends. What’s more, Jewish teaching differed from the Greco-Roman view on dying for one’s friend or a family member. Rabbi Akiba, who was not far removed from John’s time, said, “One’s own life took precedence over another’s.” (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993), 301.)
John’s Greek audience, however, would have appreciated the idea of dying for a friend. Their culture valued the heroism, loyalty, and intimacy inherent in friendship. To them, dying for a friend was the ultimate expression of a deep relationship. So Jesus’ words to his disciples here were exceptional. To them, being a friend of God carried great significance. And as Jews in a Greek society, their cultural (Hebrew) understanding of friendship would have sweetened the words. (Ibid.)
In this discussion of friendship and dying, we see sacrifice as a by-product of intimacy. In order for a person to make the ultimate sacrifice for another, a depth of love must exist. Jesus had it with his disciples, and he has it with us because he is our Creator and laid down his life to reestablish a way for us to connect with him, to be intimate with him.
If we want to get to the heart of abiding, we must cultivate intimacy, and intimacy begins with connectivity. To connect means to form a relationship. Connecting to another person, to our friends and family, requires heroic effort for sure, especially in an age of trite “friend requests.” But we need to do more than simply make connections; we need to stay connected. The vine in Jesus’ analogy
reveals the depth to which our intimacy must run. When we become estranged in our relationships, they wither, like the branches on the vine.
—Tim Willard and Jason Locy, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society (2011), pp. 209-212.