Like me, this past week, you may have been saddened by the rioting occurring in Baltimore. Now that it has been determined that there is need for a criminal investigation we pray for justice and peace in that city. In the midst of the rioting though, I was personally moved by the report of the gathering of clergy of many different denominations also marching through the streets calling for peace. These clergy have chosen to remain. You may also remember not long ago reports of Orthodox priests literally placing themselves between the warring factions in the Ukraine also praying for peace. These priests chose to remain. Recently, there were doctors and nurses who chose not to leave the different regions of Africa that were struck by Ebola rather they stayed to help the ill. They chose to remain. Every day, unnoticed and unreported, men and women help the elderly, the homeless, the addicted, the imprisoned and the ill. These men and women choose to remain.
In today’s gospel (Jn. 15:1-8) our Lord specifically uses this word “remain” over and over again. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me … Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit … If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
True strength is found not in violence, or insults, or in making a scene or calling attention to oneself but rather in the choice to remain. The choice to persevere. The choice to trust. The choice not to live a distracted and self-focused life. The choice to trust in the good of the other person. The choice to bear patiently the injustices of our world and even wrongs endured.
No Christian is nor can ever be an isolated island. The Christian life, by its very nature, must be rooted in the very life of Christ. For us, Christ is not just a nice idea or ideal or great teacher; for the disciple Christ is Lord and our very lives must be rooted in his. We must remain in Christ. The Christian can be thrown into different raging fires of our world and not be burned, not wither precisely because the Christian is rooted in Christ who has overcome the world. This has been seen throughout history and it continues to be seen in our world today.
A prized part of this “remaining” in Christ is found in the power of his words. Our Lord says specifically to his disciples, You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Later he says, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. God’s word prunes but it prunes for life – it cuts off that which corrupts and that which stunts life. When we begin to live God’s word then we remain in Christ. St. John knew this and it is what he shares in his letter (1 Jn. 3:18-24), Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them…
Every day we need to pick up and read God’s word! Every day we need to let these words sink into our hearts and every day we need to strive to live these words!
Christ never says that his disciples will not experience the fires and troubles of this world. What he does say is that the one who remains in him will not wither, will not burn even in the midst of the fires of our world precisely because he or she is rooted in the very one who has overcome this world! The Coptic Christians martyred by ISIS died saying the name of Jesus. They did not wither in this fire of brutality, they remained in Christ, they endured and witnessed the hope we have in Christ and from their witness new life will emerge. This has been seen throughout history and we see it in our world today. We are today, and have always been, a church of martyrs.
Christ is Lord! We remain in him.