It is an undisputed botanical fact that a branch cut off from the stem or vine of a plant dies. It cannot bear fruit. This is the point which Jesus makes in John 15 when he states, “I am the vine…apart from me you can do nothing.” Therefore, he calls his disciples to abide in him: “abide in me as I abide in you”. He is not inviting us to merely hang out with him but to depend on him for our very lives.
To abide or dwell in him is not a passive but a dynamic state. Like a branch drinking in the DNA of the vine, we, by abiding in Christ, drink fully of his spiritual DNA. The result is an abundant, fruitful life and a challenge to live in a new way. As the apostle John would insist, “Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way he walked.” 1John 2:6.
Last year was the 200th anniversary of the hymn, “Abide with Me” by the Irish Anglican pastor Henry Francis Lyte. In it he pleads with Christ to remain with him in every situation which life throws at him and not just visit occasionally:
“Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwellest with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.”
He was inspired to write these verses after spending time at the bedside of a dying friend who kept repeating, as if in prayer, “abide with me.” Taking the phrase from Luke 24:29 where the Emmaus disciples urge Jesus to “stay with us, for the evening is far spent”, Lyte then personalized the phrase and extended it to be a response to every human situation. “The darkness deepens, Lord with us abide.”
In both the hymn and Gospel, we acknowledge Jesus who is present and who desires to remain with us in even our darkest moments. And so, like Henry Lyte, we who yearn to abide in Christ can pray this confidently because Jesus promised that if we abide in him he will abide in us and we will bear much fruit.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) we are reminded of how Christians around the world are threatened by numerous external dangers and persecutions but also from the threat of internal discord within our various denominational confessions as well as in some communities. Any of these situations can damage our connection with the vine who is Christ. When we experience danger or persecution or the threat of disunity, let us make our own the last verse of this beautiful hymn:
“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless.
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we trust in your promise to always be with us even to the end of the age. May we always find our dwelling place in you, abide with you in prayer, and know the abundant life of peace and unity which comes from your abiding presence.
This article is featured in The Sword of the Spirit Week of Prayer and Reflections for Christian Unity which is scheduled for January 18 -25 2021.
Andy Pettman is a coordinator of Antioch Community in London, United Kingdom. He is a member of the Church of England which is part of the Anglican communion, and a member of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.