The True Vine
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
May 2, 2021
Main Idea: Jesus brings us life.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A vine is a beautiful and challenging plant. It easily grows and thrives but it requires tending or it becomes a tangled invasive mess. The first summer that we lived in our current house, our kids found some fascinating spiky green pods that were mostly hollow inside. They enjoyed collecting the pods and breaking them open. Since I am not much of a gardener, I did not pay much attention. I soon found out that they were wild cucumber and the result of those pods being broken open all over our yard was wild cucumber vines all over the place, crowding out our raspberries and blackberries, overwhelming bushes, and making a general nuisance throughout our garden. Now, each spring, I am on the lookout for its lovely white flowers and I ruthlessly pull it out before it can overwhelm anything else. The thing about a vine is that it can quickly grow tremendously long. It can engulf a tree or a building but it cannot survive without connection to its source.
Last week we were sheep cared for and guided by Jesus our shepherd. This week we are branches of the true vine. Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches.” (v. 5a) I am the source of your life and the continual vitality and spark of your being.” Each one of us is our own branch but each branch is connected to all the others through the vine and no branch is better than any other. Each branch can reach out and grow but there is no branch that can survive alone.
What does it mean to be a branch? It means that we are interconnected and interdependent and frankly we don’t really like to think of ourselves this way. As Americans, and especially as Baptists, we like to think of ourselves as independent and free. “Don’t tread on me.”, “I’m a self made man”, “I’m a Baptist, I can do what I want.” “My faith and beliefs and actions are no one’s business but my own.” “Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.” In today’s Scripture text, Jesus throws that independence right on the compost pile. It is a fallacy because, Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” A branch alone is just a piece of dead wood. “Such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
As branches of the vine, we are all tangled up together, with none of us more important or less important to Jesus. All of us are parts of the whole. Surely, the reach of Covid has shown our interconnectedness, not only in our local community but around the world. Our individual accomplishments affect the whole community as do our failings and our griefs. Our individual faith and service, as much as they help us to grow, are not just for our own edification or benefit. They are for the edification and benefit of the whole community. They serve to show the fruit of God’s love to the world.
Jesus says “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower”. The vine grower plants the seeds and carefully tends the vine with love and attention, delighting in its growth and beauty. Jesus understands that God our creator pays attention to us and gives us the tools we need to live as God would have us live. Just like the wild cucumber, we need guidance and constraints in order to live together well. That which is not of God is pruned away; selfishness, greed, heartlessness, evil. Pruning sounds ominous but all of us know the benefit of clearing away that which is unhelpful and cluttering up our lives. Gardeners know that pruning is essential for healthy gardens and healthy fruit.
What does it mean for us to bear fruit? We might think it means to be successful, to be accomplished, to have an abundant harvest of lots of stuff. Our society certainly encourages us to measure our worth by the material possessions we can accumulate. Even churches are judged by how many people, how much money, and how many programs they have. But Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). The fruit Jesus cares about is love. Just love, openly and honestly shared by all who abide in Jesus as their source.
Jesus says, “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.” Obviously, branches don’t have a choice about whether or not to abide in the vine, but we are under the illusion that we do have a choice. We think that we can choose a life connected with the divine or not or that we can compartmentalize our “spiritual” life away from our “real” life. And I suppose that we do have a choice but it is not the choice of life with God or life without God. Jesus tells us that life without God is no life at all. We cannot succeed on our own. Self-sufficiency is an illusion. We cannot live or thrive without our source, the ground of our being, or without the community of our branches all abiding together.
What does it mean to abide? It is a curious word, with both active and passive connotations. “If God is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, what should we do? We have only one task: to abide. To tarry, to stay, to cling, to remain, to depend, to rely, to last, to persevere, to commit, to continue, to tolerate, to endure, to acquiesce, to accept. To hang in there for the long haul. To make ourselves at home.” (Debi Thomas, journeywithjesus.net). To abide is to remain connected no matter the circumstances. It is to rest in Jesus and to trust that Jesus, our true vine, will always nurture us and give us life.
Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches.” This text was the main Scripture reading at my wedding. Mark and I understood that our life together, our vocations as pastors, our family, our very lives were dependent on Jesus, our source. Our wedding rings have vines on them to remind us of this every day. Anything we accomplish comes from the gift of life we know in Jesus. As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, may we rest in the tangle of our branches, all connected to Jesus our vine, and may we blossom in the beauty of Christ’s love.
Let us pray, Holy Vine-grower, source of all that we are, thank you for your gracious tending of us. Help us to abide in you. Empower us to bear much fruit as Christ’s disciples. Amen.