The Gospel reading for the sixth Sunday of Easter is a continuation of Christ’s reflection at the Last Supper. His homily, preserved only in the Fourth Gospel, makes no reference to the Eucharist, bread or wine. Instead, Jesus gives us an extended discourse on his relationship with the Father, the Holy Spirit, and his disciples. He speaks of his impending separation from the disciples (on account of his passion, and later his Ascension), and in chapter 17, he also consecrates his disciples to his Father.
This is not say that the author of John’s Gospel does not remember a Eucharist at the Last Supper. Rather the author of the Fourth Gospel omitted certain details about the Christian faith due to the fact that Christians were persecuted in Asia Minor. Thus, Mary’s name is never mentioned, nor is John’s own name mentioned in the Johannine Gospel. In addition, the details of the Eucharist celebrated at the Last Supper are left unmentioned, and the theology of the Eucharist is shifted to euphemistic and symbolic accounts described in John chapters six and twenty-one.
This Sunday’s Gospel is a small excerpt – but a fraction – of this epic five-chapter-long homily. However, we can extrapolate important lessons from this Sunday’s very brief passage.
Remain in Me
Jesus asks his disciples to “remain in me” (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί) at least six times during his homily. The root word is meno in Greek, from which we get permanecer in Spanish, rimanere in Italian, and remain in English. It is a favorite term of the author, occurring seventeen times in the Gospel of John, five times in I John the Epistle, and six times in the Book of Revelation. John uses the term remain more frequently than the other three Evangelists combined, or more frequently than all of Paul’s letters combined.
In chapter fifteen, Jesus says I am the vine, you are the branches. Christ tells us that a relationship with God requires close and constant proximity. To remain in Christ is also to abide in his love. But he also tells us something about the Trinity.
Jesus conveys to us several aspects of Trinitarian theology in his homily. In this Sunday’s passage, he affirms that disciples of Christ are called to “remain in” both Christ and the Spirit, and that the Spirit is in you, and that Christ is in you. In Corinthians 8:9, Paul speaks of the indwelling (oikeo) of the spirit. This concept is chronologically Johannine, meaning John is the first to both witness Jesus teaching, and then to preach of the Spirit remaining or existing within us – even if we concede that Paul wrote his letter first. I say this to the extent that John the Evangelist was a witness to Christ’s sermon at the Last Supper, while Paul was not. Paul is simply re-articulating what he heard from the Apostles and that which the Spirit inspired him to say.
John’s writing tells us that the Trinity dwells within us. First, He tells us explicitly that Christ and the Spirit are present within us. Then by implication, because Jesus tells us that I am in my Father, that the Father is also present in us as well. In this long Johannine homily, it is made clear that the Trinity is present where Jesus is present, and that wherever the Spirit is present, the Trinity is present as well.
Christ also affirms yet another important aspect of God and the Trinity. The Trinity is relational, and Jesus defines the role of the Trinity principally in relation to our own lives. The Genesis accounts conveys God’s Trinitarian intent when God says, let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness (Gen 1:26). While it is true that the Trinity exists in se (God does not need us in order to exist), God still wants us to understand the Trinity as fundamentally relational in nature. Both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament define God as a power that exists primarily in relation to us – as creator, sustainer of life, source of all good things, and provider of our salvation.
Abide in My Love
Perhaps this talk of Trinitarian theology, and Christ’s statement I am the vine, you are the branches, may seem somewhat abstract. However, these themes are tied together by the love of God, and the presence of God’s love within us. In Matthew 15:9, Jesus asks us, abide in my love. This mandate becomes the central expression or mandate of the disciples in a post-Resurrection setting. In other words, repent and believe in the Gospel becomes the first step of Christian discipleship. The second step and the continuing responsibility of the disciple of Christ is to cooperate in grace. Which is to say – to abide in the love of Jesus Christ, or to abide in the love of God.
The centrality of God’s love is expressed throughout the New Testament. For instance, when the Pharisee asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, he responds during Holy Week, in the Temple (Mt 22:37-40) as follows,
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Then Jesus affirms the importance of love only a few days later, as John tells us in the Last Supper discourse,
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
And again, Saint Paul affirms the theology of the Gospels with his own observation on love. In fact, his concluding words on a discourse on gifts of the Holy Spirit in chapter 12 is qualified in chapter 13 with these words,
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.