We are the church, together

Easter 6B
John 15:9-17

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had lately where people have been telling me how much they miss coming to church.  Being kept away from here feels sort of like being locked out of your home.  It’s not where we live day in and day out, but it is a big part of where we live.  We do our living here, in this community, with these people… With this purpose.

And we all know the children’s song, and we try to remember it at times like these: “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church IS the people.”  Of course that’s true.  But it still feels strange being kept apart from the building.

But, let me tell you: I am living proof that that song I grew up hearing is true.  I haven’t been kept from the building.  In fact, I’ve been working throughout this pandemic to keep this building as a part of our worship.  A lot of clergy have broadcast worship from home during the pandemic, and that’s certainly a reasonable thing to have done.  But I made the commitment early on to do our worship here: in our own, regular St. David’s worship spaces, because, in an era when so much seemed to be abnormal, I wanted us to have some basis of “normal” however we could – even if it was just on a computer screen.

But even so, even though I’ve had access to this building, and worshiped here, the church sometimes hasn’t really felt like the church.  Because: “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people.”  So when it feels like we’ve somehow been kept from our homes during this pandemic, it’s important to remember that the home we’re missing isn’t inside these walls, the home isn’t sitting in these pews, the home that we’re missing is in each other.  The home we’re missing is the relationships that we’ve built and the memories that we make and share.  Our home is in each other.  And together, our home is in Christ – and more specifically: our home is in Christ, together.

I love whenever this Gospel reading comes around.  I love the image of “abiding” in the love of Christ.  “Abide” is one of those words that we don’t tend to use much anymore.  To the degree that we do use is, we don’t use it as it’s meant in this context.  We may say we “can’t abide” something, meaning we can’t tolerate it.  But Jesus isn’t advising us to tolerate his love.  Or we may say that we will abide by various laws or regulations.  “The bishop has given this direction and we must abide by her ruling.”  But Jesus isn’t demanding that we follow the rule of his love.  Instead, in this context, abide means something archaic – it means something that doesn’t tend to mean anymore.  In this context, to abide is to live in, or, I think more accurately, to make our home in…  That’s what it means to abide in Jesus’ love: to make our home in the love of Christ.  To make the love of Christ our source of refreshment; to be what we turn to when there’s nowhere else to turn – or even nowhere else we’d rather turn.

In his poem “The Death of the Hired Man” Robert Frost famously said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  That’s part of what it means to abide in Christ’s love.  It means to know that there is home.  No matter what.  No matter the challenges you may face, Christ’s love is the home that can refresh you.  No matter the joys you may know, Christ’s love is the home that will celebrate with you.

In this congregation, we’re on our way back home.  Assuming nothing serious changes, our plan is to reopen the church for in-person worship two weeks from today.  Both of the counties that our church primarily serves have been downgraded from a “critical” risk designation to a “high” risk designation.  That means that the number of new daily COVID cases in our area has fallen significantly, and the rate of transmission has fallen to more manageable levels.  We will still have safety protocols in place: masks and social distancing will be required, and the same kinds of protections that we put in place when we could gather again last summer will still be happening.  But the important thing is that we can start to be together again.

As we return to this place – as we make our way back home – the thing I hope we’ll most remember is that our real home isn’t this building.  This physical space has come to represent our home, but our real home is where we abide.  It’s this community.  It’s the good works that we do together.  It’s the joy that we share and the memories we make together.  And most of all, our home is the love of Christ that we experience together, exemplify together, and proclaim together.  The love of Christ that is best known by our being together.  That’s the home we’re reclaiming.  And though it’s been harder to feel when we’ve been apart, it’s the home that we’ve never really been separated from.  It’s a home that’s with us no matter what we face.

I think of the old hymn, “Abide with me.”  It says: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.  The darkness deepens: Lord, with me abide”.  I love that hymn.  I love singing it, and I love hearing it.  But it misses the point.  Christ abides.  Full stop.  The point isn’t that we pray for Christ to abide, but that we should remain ever-vigilant in our desire and purpose to abide in Christ’s love.  That’s our home.  And no matter what physical limitations we may face from pandemic or disaster or anything else, that will always be our home.  That’s the thing that stays.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.