We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Abiding (John 15:1-8)

By Marek Zabriskie for the Bible Challenge

I have a small beautiful communion kit, which was given to me by a woman whose husband was a chaplain at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire and later an Associate Rector at St. Thomas Church, where I serve. Her husband died long before I became Rector of St. Thomas, but his wife wanted me to have his communion kit. It was one of the most touching gifts that I have ever received.

Her husband was a wonderful priest with a great pastoral heart. When a death or tragedy occurred, he immediately telephoned and said, “Put a pot of tea on the stove. I will be right over.” He often brought this communion kit with him, which was given to him by another priest, who received it from another priest, who was the Associate Rector of Holy Trinity Church in Rittenhouse Square, where Phillips Brooks, the author of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was Rector. Brooks was the greatest preacher that the Episcopal Church ever produced. He gave his Associate Rector this communion kit, which now bears the initials on it of all whom have owned and used it.

Each time I bring communion to someone in the hospital or at home, we recite a short service. I begin by reading several verses of Scripture, including one which comes from John 15:

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. 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. (John 15:4-5)

Few phrases in the Bible are more powerful. Our strength, wisdom and hope comes from abiding in God and spending time with Jesus through prayer and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us each day as we read the Bible. “Abiding” is an old-fashioned word, which does not get much use nowadays, but it is a rich, wonderful word worthy of reflecting upon at length.

This word forms the heart of one of the best-loved Anglican hymns for Evensong Abide with me.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me. 

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; it’s glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me. 

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. 

This hymn was composed by the Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte and sung most often to William Henry Monk’s tune “Eventide.” Lyte wrote the poem in 1847 and set it to music as he lay dying from tuberculosis. He survived only three weeks after it was composed. The hymn is popular among many denominations and was said to be a personal favorite of King George V and Mahatma Gandhi. It is one of the most beautiful hymns to sing at a funeral. As the Titanic was sinking, the ship’s band played it as the lifeboats were being lowered into the dark water below. It is often sung on Remembrance Day in Canada and Great Britain, and it influenced phrases of the finale of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.

Before stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams asked Dr. Ben Quash to write the Lenten book for the Anglican Communion in 2013. Ben wrote Abiding.

Abiding is a somewhat odd word. It is no longer found in daily conversation. Quash, however, shows how abiding is central to the Christian life. It indicates a sense of profound personal commitment, a sort of solidarity that “waiting” cannot convey. Abiding speaks of God’s commitment to us and our commitment to God. Jesus called his followers to abide with him in order to discover a transformation of life as we relinquish our own control in order to abide with God. Those who cannot relinquish control of their own lives in order to follow Jesus cannot move beyond the surface of the Christian life.

Throughout this chapter, Jesus invited his disciples to a new level of commitment. He warned them, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (John 15:1-2) It is interesting to watch workers in the vineyard pruning the vines. We are not meant to be leafy branches that soak up the sun and rain simply for our own benefit. We were created to bear fruit that serves God’s purpose. This is what brings us our ultimate joy.

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete,” noted Jesus. (John 15:11) Joy is one of the great barometers of the Christian life. It is different from happiness. On any given day or hour a Christian may or may not be happy. Happiness is like a volatile stock, which can go up or down on any given day or hour in which the stock exchange is open. Joy, however, is a deeper current of emotional state that can be much more profound, stable and enduring. God longs for each of us to have enduring joy.

Jesus warned his disciples, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) Christians today must be aware the Muslims in Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Turkey are making life increasingly impossible and insufferable for Christians. More Christians were persecuted in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined. Jews have been shocked at how silent American Christians have been while Christians around the world are persecuted and suffer.

Jesus promised his disciples that when he died he would send “the Advocate” or paraclete in Greek, which is a counselor or advocate who would offer us wisdom and counsel and plead our case before the courts of heaven. Christians know this advocate as the Holy Spirit, who is with us as all times and helps us to abide in God. The world does not need churches full of complacent Christians. The world needs a few more committed Christians who abide in Jesus and carry out his ministry faithfully each day.